Dramatic growth in COVID cases post-Thanksgiving raises specter of double surge

December 09, 2020
Graph showing sharp increase in COVID cases.
This screenshot shows a 65% increase in COVID-19 cases in the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project's Dec. 9 update. It focuses on Dec. 7 as the endpoint because there's a lag in case reporting from the state health agency.

The top three indicators in the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project’s weekly update form a ribbon of red heading into the heart of the holiday season thanks to a post-Thanksgiving surge.

One of the red indicators reflects the growth rate. “We have had a 65% increase in just a week in the number of cases in the Tri-county area,” said project leader Michael Sweat, Ph.D.

Another looks at whether there’s been a sustained reduction in new cases. It just went from yellow to red thanks to two weeks in a row of rising case numbers.

The third involves the actual number of cases in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined. Last week’s total: 971. This week’s: 1,538.

Red graphic showing COVID cases rose 65% in a week. 
Red zone: One of the indicators in troubling territory.

Sweat attributes the increase to a combination of the Thanksgiving holiday and the weather, which is getting cooler in the Charleston area. “I think people went into Thanksgiving hearing all the warnings, but many still got together. I think we’re paying the price for that now. A lot of people traveled, which transmits infections.”

And COVID-19 may deliver a dangerous lump of coal in the form of a double surge as the holidays continue. “If this plays out like we think it will, the numbers will keep going up for a period of time. The Christmas season through the New Year goes on for a relatively long period of time. It enhances the number of gatherings and the amount of time people are spending together,” Sweat said.

While the tracking project also notes a high number of outbreaks in nursing homes - a frightening phenomenon being seen across the country - its Dec. 9 update includes some encouraging news. 

COVID-19 tests are still widely available, test results come back within an average of two days and Tri-county hospitals are still in good shape in terms of their ability to treat all patients without having to use crisis measures.

And Sweat said there are simple steps people can take to lower the odds of a double COVID surge this winter. “We have the ability to affect this. People can wear masks, use social distancing, avoid being around people outside their household and just hang on a little longer. Vaccines are on the way. But people have to stick with it.”

The MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project is a public service, giving a weekly big-picture update and a daily update on the number of cases per day per 100,000 people. It uses data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Cuebiq, the Medical University of South Carolina and other sources. 

The project’s team includes not only Sweat, who’s a global health expert, but also specialists in medicine, public health, mental health and research.

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