Latest update from MUSC COVID tracking team shows slight dip in Tri-county - but increases elsewhere

February 17, 2021
Illustration of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Illustration of the coronavirus that causes the illness COVID-19. Pixabay

As the United States records a stunning 43% decrease in new COVID cases over the two-week period that ended Feb. 16, the Charleston Tri-county area is showing a decline as well – although a less dramatic one.

The latest update from the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project shows that Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined saw a 5% decrease in new COVID-19 cases during the week that ended Feb. 15, compared with the week before. And the number of new cases was 2,958, compared with 3,100 the previous week.

“That’s great,” said Michael Sweat, Ph.D., the leader of the tracking team at the Medical University of South Carolina. “But keep in mind, we’re still at a very high rate of daily infections.”

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

You don’t have to look far to see that the threat of COVID-19 is still very real. Two other parts of South Carolina that Sweat’s team monitors closely, Florence and Lancaster, saw increases in new cases in the tracking team’s latest update. Florence was up 17%, Lancaster 4%. 

Lancaster also continues to be a source of worry when it comes to its hospital’s ability to treat critically ill patients without resorting to crisis standards. The MUSC team’s update shows that about 97% of intensive care unit beds in the Lancaster area are full.

But Sweat said that number is less troubling than it sounds because there are so few intensive care unit beds in Lancaster to begin with, and the hospital is able to work with the MUSC Health hospital in Florence to shift patients there if needed.

Meanwhile, the big picture for hospitals is looking better and better. At the start of the pandemic, almost 98% of the people who tested positive for COVID ended up in the hospital, Sweat said. Hospital systems, including MUSC Health, got ready to turn nonclinical areas, such as the Wellness Center, into hospital bed space. 

They’re still prepared to do that if needed. But Sweat said the odds of that happening are way down. “Our medical system is very adept at figuring things out, and they're managing better without getting people in the hospital. Around the middle of our summer surge, only about 15% of the people who were diagnosed in the area ended up at the hospital. And if you keep going forward in time, as we got into our winter surge, this number has declined to close to 10%.”

Sweat said the people who do end up in the hospital are much more likely to be in the intensive care unit. “There are fewer people, but they’re much sicker.”

Looking ahead, he worries about the possible impact of variants of the coronavirus – mutations that can help it spread more easily. “Doctors now believe the British one has a higher mortality rate – between 8 and 27%, depending on the age of the patient. Older people are at the higher end. And the big worry with the South African variant is that people are being reinfected,” Sweat said.

“People really do need to be careful. But with more and more people getting vaccinated and the vaccine makers adapting to the variants, I actually am pretty optimistic that we're going to get our hands around this over the summer.”

Get the Latest MUSC News

Get more stories about what's happening at MUSC, delivered straight to your inbox.