COLUMBIA, S.C.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 903 new coronavirus cases Friday.

DHEC confirmed 23 new deaths. Since the global coronavirus pandemic reached the state in March, the agency has recorded 114,400 confirmed cases and 2,521 confirmed deaths.

But less people have been getting tested in the last month with 5,751 test results reported Friday compared to around 10,000 on a typical day in July.

Still, the percent of positive tests seems to be dropping from the near average of 20% recorded much of July. The percent of positive tests announced on Friday was 15.7%.

The World Health Organization suggests 5% should be the standard before countries consider reopening, and Department of Health and Environmental Control state Epidemiologist Linda Bell cited the same percentage as a goal.

DHEC also unveiled a new system to detail South Carolina coronavirus cases.

“The quality, completeness, and amount of data that DHEC publicly reports each day has earned South Carolina an A+ rating from the a new system a trusted, national organization that collects and consolidates COVID-19 data from all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia,” the agency said in a news release.

Which counties were affected?

In the Midlands, Richland County had 103 new cases for a total of 10,107 cases since March, making it the third county after Greenville and Charleston to reach 10,000 cases.

Only Charleston County had more new cases with 109.

Lexington County, meanwhile, added 46 new cases. Lexington County has seen a decreasing rate of virus activity over the past few weeks and is on the lower end of the state in cases per capita.

Residents of the following counties died after contracting the virus: Aiken (5), Anderson (4), Bamberg (1), Berkeley (1) Charleston (1), Dorchester (1), Edgefield (1), Florence (1), Greenville (2), Greenwood (3), McCormick (1), Orangeburg (3), Pickens (1), Richland (1), Spartanburg (1)

Of those 23 confirmed deaths, 18 were described as 65 years or older, four were in middle-aged individuals between the ages of 35 and 64. One other death is still under investigation.

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 since, totals have slowly dropped. Three weeks ago, case counts ranged from just above 1,000 to more than 1,300. DHEC has reported daily figures of new cases of under 1,000 for the last 13 days.

State health officials said Tuesday that the virus’ progression has been slowing significantly in areas with face mask requirements and where residents are practicing social distancing.

However, the drop in case numbers can also be attributed in part to labs performing fewer tests, DHEC officials have said. In order to account for that possibility, officials have highlighted the importance of percentage of tests run that come back positive.

On Wednesday, 20.4% of tests reported were positive, the first time that percentage has passed 20% in two weeks. On Friday, the positive percent dropped to 15.7%.

In May, at its lowest point, the percentage of positive tests fell between 2% and 4% on average, while it peaked in July at consistently upwards of 20%.

The percentage of COVID-19 tests with positive results has ticked down week over week since mid-July, but it is still above the 5% standard DHEC has said it would like to see.

“Our goal has always been to see a consistent downward trend that persisted for at least 14 days at a very low level with a percent positive that is … ideally, less than 5%. And so if we were to achieve that goal of sustained disease activity suppression for at least two weeks, that would have widespread implications for a confidence that we could resume certain activities that are being evaluated now,” Bell told reporters during a conference call Friday.

Nationally, about 9.1% of tests turn up positive, according to the CDC.

In all, 989,673 tests have been completed in South Carolina since March.

Are all cases accounted for?

State health officials estimate that around 86% of South Carolinians who contract the virus don’t get tested.

As of Wednesday, they estimated that 751,227 people in all have likely contracted COVID-19 since March.

DHEC has also been recording probable cases and probable deaths. A probable case is someone who has not received lab test results 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 Friday, state health officials reported 34 new probable cases and five new probable deaths. That brings the total number of probable cases up to 1,551 and total probable deaths to 134.

DHEC officials have said the recent slowdown in testing could mean that more people with the coronavirus have gone untested and undiagnosed.

How are hospitals being impacted?

As of Friday, the state reported 979 patients in South Carolina hospitals have coronavirus, including 246 patients in intensive care and 146 patients on ventilators.

In all, almost 83% of in-patient beds are occupied in S.C. hospitals, including 76.3% of beds in intensive care units.

The number of coronavirus patients hospitalized at one time peaked at more than 1,700 on July 23, and the daily numbers have declined since.

Some data since late July was unavailable as DHEC transitioned its reporting system from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Department of Health and Human Services, as requested by the federal government. The agency said the new system will give more precise information about COVID-19-related hospital conditions.

David Travis Bland won the SC Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. He joined The State in 2018. He writes about crime, law enforcement and the criminal justice system. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2010.
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