Tri-county COVID numbers climb but not as quickly as in recent weeks

August 12, 2021
A coronavirus particle isolated from a patient. Image captured and color enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Micrograph of a coronavirus particle isolated from a patient. Image captured and color enhanced by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The growth rate of COVID-19 cases is 18% for the Charleston Tri-county area in the latest update from the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project, down from a staggering 139% increase the previous week. The period between Aug. 3 and Aug. 9 showed 3,480 being reported. The week before, it was 2,951. 

“The growth rate was doubling and then more than doubling, and now, it's kind of stabilized, but it's still growing, and it's still high,” said Michael Sweat, Ph.D., the project’s leader. 

“What's going to happen next is the big question. And I don't know the answer to that, but there are a few clues. Looking at places that just went through a Delta explosion like we’re seeing now, a few patterns show up.”

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

In India and the U.K., the Delta variant caused huge spikes in cases very quickly, then the numbers started going down. “I would hazard a guess to say we're probably going to see something like that, which is kind of a two-month period with very high cases. Then, it’ll drop off relatively quickly. But this is trying to make a prediction with something that's not stable,” Sweat said.

“You know, there's a lot of new variables that are getting thrown in — not just the Delta variant but also shifting vaccination rates, with different vaccination rates in different places. So it throws a lot of new wrinkles into it.”

He said the cause of the decreases that followed scary spikes elsewhere is being explored. “Is it vaccines in the case of the U.K., which has a similar vaccination rate to the U.S.? Is it saturation?” Sweat said, referring to the possibility that the Delta variant infected so many people that it ran low on new targets.

“Or is it behavior? I mean, it's probably all of them, you know, but those data from these other countries are really interesting. The case rates really went up and down. I mean, it's like a slalom, you know  straight up and straight down. One worry is, once it goes down again, are people going to fall back into complacency?”

Another worry involves what will happen when school starts next week in the Charleston area. Kids under 12 aren’t vaccinated unless they’ve been in a clinical trial testing the shots, and masks aren’t required in public schools. “I think it's going to cause some fireworks. I think a lot of parents are going to be really upset on both sides when it comes to kids wearing masks,” Sweat said of the ongoing debate.

Pfizer has said vaccines for kids older than 5 should become available soon, possibly this fall. In the meantime, Sweat said there are plenty of things to feel encouraged about. 

“The vaccines are keeping people out of the hospital. If this had happened 30 years ago, we would be suffering way worse. People are just doing amazing things in science. It's inspirational, really, getting the vaccines so quickly and then having Moderna and Pfizer ready to go to a new version of the vaccine that would target Delta. So those are all uplifting things.”

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