On the final day of September, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control reported its fewest new COVID-19 cases and tests in a single day since May, as the agency said it had a “temporary reporting delay of electronic lab results” as it made improvements to its internal database.
DHEC reported just 197 cases and 1,252 individual test results Wednesday. That’s the lowest daily case count since May 27 and the fewest test results since May 4.
Those numbers, however, only account for lab results submitted to DHEC via email or fax. Electronic lab result reports were not included as the database is updated, the agency said on Twitter. DHEC promised another update in Thursday’s report.
Health officials did record 21 new confirmed deaths related to the virus Wednesday. Since the global pandemic first reached South Carolina in March, DHEC has recorded 143,623 confirmed cases and 3,186 deaths.
With the limited testing totals Wednesday, the percentage of tests returning positive was 15.7%, the highest the health agency has recorded since Sept. 10.
The average rate of positive tests has declined from the state’s high points in July, when it consistently topped 20%, but it is still above the 5% mark health experts, including DHEC state epidemiologist Linda Bell, have cited as a goal.
Officials have worked to increase free testing opportunities around the state and in the Columbia area and are recommending anyone who is “out and about” in the community or not able to wear a facial covering and practice social distancing be tested at least once a month.
Which counties were affected?
With Wednesday’s incomplete results, neighboring Richland and Lexington counties reported the largest increases in cases with 40 each. Richland County in particular has seen a bump in case counts since college students first started returning to campus in late August.
The following counties saw residents die after contracting COVID-19: Anderson (1), Bamberg (1), Charleston (2), Cherokee (2), Darlington (3), Edgefield (1), Fairfield (1), Florence (1), Greenville (1), Greenwood (1), Jasper (2), Lexington (2), Marion (1), Oconee (1), Spartanburg (1),
The individual who died in Marion County was a young adult, defined by DHEC as someone between 18 and 34 years old. Seven others were middle-aged, defined as between 35 and 64 years old, and the remaining 14 were elderly, defined as 65 years old and up.
How is COVID-19 trending in SC?
The number of daily new cases reported in South Carolina hit a high of 2,343 on July 18. In the month after, totals slowly dropped, including a stretch of 13 days in a row when case counts were under 1,000.
The seven-day moving average of new cases rose again slightly in late August and early September, but it dipped again and has stayed below 1,000 new cases per day for most of the month.
State health officials credited the decline in cases since July in part to a significant slowdown in virus activity in areas with face mask requirements and where residents are practicing social distancing. In particular, DHEC data has shown that the areas that implemented mask ordinances the earliest have seen the largest overall declines.
But health officials have also said lower testing totals have played a role as well. After regularly reporting more than 10,000 tests a day in July, DHEC has not recorded that many throughout August and September.
Officials have said there has not been a reduction in testing capacity, but demand has slowed as “testing fatigue” sets in. The Department of Health and Human Services deployed a federal “surge testing team” that has set up free testing sites and opportunities in the Columbia area over the next several weeks.
To account for lower test totals, officials have highlighted the importance of percentage of tests run that come back positive. The seven-day moving average of that percentage in South Carolina rose to nearly 20% in early September but has declined to under 12% in recent weeks.
Nationally, about 8.2% of tests have turned up positive, according to the CDC. In South Carolina, that percentage has been higher since March, at 14.8%. In all, 1,423,162 tests have been completed in the state since March.
Are all cases accounted for?
State health officials have estimated that around 86% of South Carolinians who contract the virus don’t get tested.
DHEC has also been recording probable cases and probable deaths. A probable case is someone who has not received a lab test result but has virus symptoms or a positive antibody test. A probable death is someone who has not gotten a lab test but whose death certificate lists COVID-19 as a cause of death or a contributing factor.
On Wednesday, state health officials reported 53 new probable cases and one new probable death. That puts the total number of probable cases at 4,319 and total probable deaths at 192.
How are hospitals being impacted?
As of Wednesday, the state reported 729 patients in South Carolina hospitals have the novel coronavirus, including 184 in intensive care and 95 on ventilators. The number of patients hospitalized at one time peaked at 1,723 on July 23.
In all, 80.23% of inpatient beds in S.C. hospitals are currently occupied, including 75.21% of ICU beds.
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