COLUMBIA - On the same day South Carolina reported a record 69 COVID-19 deaths, the mayor of Charleston asked for spiritual help for people who died in the pandemic, people fighting the virus and their families.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg declared Thursday a day of prayer and remembrance in what for centuries has been nicknamed the Holy City for the number of church steeples that dotted its Colonial skyline from many different faiths.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest test of that faith. The 69 deaths reported Thursday were 31 more than any other day since the pandemic began. Health officials blamed a backlog of confirming the virus was connected to the deaths, but the vast majority of the people died in the past week, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported.
And in a state that is among the worst in the nation in a number of statistics, Charleston is one of the biggest hot spots.
In the ZIP codes that make up downtown Charleston, more than 3% of residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, which estimates the total number of cases could be eight or nine times more.
In Sumter County, the ZIP code with the most known cases is 29150, which covers the city and surrounding area. As of DHEC data from July 15, the next-most affected ZIP codes are 29154 and 29153.
To fight COVID-19, Charleston City Council at Tecklenburg's urging passed new rules this week increasing the fine for not wearing a mask from $50 to $100, limiting bars and restaurants to 50% capacity and banning amplified music after 9 p.m.
"In addition to prayer, we must do everything in our power to flatten this curve before our hospitals are overwhelmed; before additional loss of life occurs; so our schools can reopen; to avoid another shutdown of our businesses," Tecklenburg said at Thursday's 20-minute service at the ornate St. Michael's Church in downtown Charleston.
The city also lowered flags on City Hall to half staff Thursday.
By nearly every measure, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in South Carolina. The 69 deaths pushed South Carolina well past 1,000 people killed by the virus, the 25th state to cross that somber threshold.
"Please remember this virus is real and it is everywhere," state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said.
Nearly 39% of the almost 64,000 known cases in South Carolina have been diagnosed in the past two weeks.
DHEC reported 1,842 new confirmed cases on Thursday, including 30 in Sumter.
The state has set records for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 nearly every day in July. The number of patients currently in the hospital was up to 1,578 on Thursday, 214 of whom were on ventilators.
The economic news continued to be bad, too. More than 19,300 people filed unemployment claims for the week ending July 11 in South Carolina, the state Department of Employment and Workforce reported.
It was a small increase from the week before, but each of the 17 weeks since the pandemic began in mid-March have seen more unemployment claims filed than any other week in the past decade.
Since the major COVID-19 shutdown, about 671,000 people have filed jobless claims and the state has distributed more than $3.1 billion in unemployment benefits, the agency said.
"We do turn to God at a time like this," Tecklenburg said in Charleston, with four pastors of various faiths around him.
They prayed for the dead, for the sick, for their families, for health care workers, for scientists looking for a vaccine and for Tecklenburg, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and President Donald Trump.
"I believe you are in the midst of this storm. I know you would not forsake us," prayed the Rev. Anthony Thompson, pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church.
They pointed out COVID-19 was not the first plague faced by God's people and would not be the last.
"The world feels strange right now. Some people are worried that they might get ill. Others are anxious for their family and friends. Others are ill and dying. Still others are separated from loved ones at times when they most want and need to be together. Surround them all - surround us all with your holy angels," prayed Vicar Callie Walpole of the Grace Church Cathedral.
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