For first time since early July, weekly Tri-county COVID case rate drops

September 09, 2021
Graph showing COVID-19 cases in Tri-county area going down after a weeks long surge.
The far right of this graph shows COVID-19 cases in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined finally going down a little.

After more than two months of worrying weekly updates for the Charleston Tri-county area, the Medical University of South Carolina’s COVID tracking team reports the seven-day average of new infections has gone down 3%. It’s a small but welcome decline as hospital systems, including MUSC Health, are treating what’s been called an unprecedented spike in COVID patients.

“We were really thrilled,” said team leader Michael Sweat, Ph.D. He’s a professor in the College of Medicine at MUSC and a global health specialist. He’s also affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and has worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a research scientist.

“We were kind of expecting it to happen. Our metrics have been suggesting this is going to happen.”

Sweat’s team has been providing COVID-19 analysis and predictions since early in the pandemic based on data from MUSC Health, state and federal health agencies, the Census Bureau and scientific publications.

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

That team, known as the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project, reports there were 6,745 cases in the past week in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined. The week before there were 6,979. It’s still a really high number, but Sweat is pleased to finally see a change for the better.

“I really do think we're approaching the peak. But I think there's a real risk of — what was it Alan Greenspan used to say? Irrational exuberance,” Sweat said, referring to a famous cautionary phrase used by the former Federal Reserve Board chairman. “We’ve fallen into that trap so many times, thinking ‘Oh, it's all gone.’”

And COVID is clearly still here, Sweat said. “We are at a pivotal point because of schools and universities opening. I believe those are fairly strong forces for transmission. We've seen huge outbreaks in colleges. And a lot of kids in schools are picking it up. School transmissions are happening, and I think that could push it back up, but I do think we're on the path to seeing at least an initial decline. Hopefully it'll keep going.”

He said summer COVID surges in other places have tended to last eight to 12 weeks. “They have a sharp curve up and a pretty sharp curve down. Louisiana is definitely coming down, substantially and quickly. Mississippi - another sharp decline occurring. Alabama, it's coming down, although it's early. Georgia, same way. Florida, major decline,” Sweat said.

“So every one of these states that preceded us has had the exact same pattern and about the same amount of time. Makes me think we're going to have the same outcome.”

But he urged people to continue to be vigilant as South Carolina remains a national COVID-19 hotspot with one of the lower vaccination rates in the country. “There's still a lot of risk out there.”

He called the Delta variant’s impact, which has played out over the past several weeks, shocking. “I did not expect Delta to be as bad as it is. And it just tells you how that virus can find the little clusters of people and move around.”

That’s why he encourages people to see COVID-19, which is still mutating, as a long-term challenge. “There's a real chance of another wave coming as we move into the winter just like last year — that was our worst wave yet. There's another potential for that, so it’s important to keep people's eye on that.”

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