Hospitalizations, cases continue to surge in S.C.


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South Carolina in the last three days has seen its three highest daily coronavirus case counts as the state sits among the top nationwide that are seeing cases surge.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported 1,599 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, surpassing the previous daily record of 1,290 set on Tuesday. There were 1,366 new cases reported on Sunday and 1,320 Monday.

That brings the total number of people who live in South Carolina who have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory illness to 34,546, including 1,020 in Sumter.

Also in the last three days, 24 additional deaths have been announced by the state, bringing the death toll to 717, including 22 in Sumter. One local death was announced in the county over the weekend by the state.

Two of the numbers public health officials have said they look at most closely are the percentage of tests coming back positive and the number of hospital beds being used by patients with COVID-19.

The percent positive rate was 15.5% on Monday, its lowest rate in about a week and down from the state's record of 20.1% it reached on Sunday.

However, after seeing a record high of 954 hospitalizations from the virus on Saturday and a drop to 908 on Sunday, there were 1,032 virus-related hospitalizations statewide on Monday. Public health officials have urged people to stay home, wear masks in public and maintain clean hygiene to prevent a spike in cases that may overload hospitals.

"This is a dang deadly disease," Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday. "You have to follow the rules and wear your mask."

McMaster said, and area hospital leaders have echoed, that a plan is in place to create new hospital beds should cases and hospitalizations continue to surge. If necessary, McMaster said, he may require medical facilities to again postpone elective procedures to keep space available.

Last week, DHEC reported only as little as 892 cases every day. The week before, the state's daily case counts ranged between 577 and 1,157. Three weeks ago, DHEC reported between 434 and 802 cases daily.

State officials say the increase in daily counts is not only because of increased testing, pointing to the percentage of tests coming back positive trending upward. It's also the result of people not practicing safety precautions, including wearing masks in public and maintaining social distancing guidelines of keeping 6 feet apart, officials say.

"It's troubling that not enough people are taking this pandemic seriously," State Epidemiologist Lind Bell said last week.

McMaster has said he will not issue a statewide order mandating the use of face masks because he said such a law is unenforceable - a claim reporters at a Friday news conference countered with questions about the ability to enforce the state's seat belt law since 2000 - but a number of local officials have moved in that direction, including the cities of Columbia, Charleston, Clemson and Greenville.

After Sumter Mayor Joe McElveen issued a non-binding proclamation last week urging people to wear masks in public and maintain social distancing, city council met on Friday to vote on whether to require them be worn in the city. They voted to postpone the decision for five days.