For the first time since last June, state health officials Monday reported fewer than 5% of COVID-19 test results came back positive, state health officials said.
Just 4.6% of the 23,892 COVID-19 tests reported Monday returned positive results, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The last time South Carolina’s coronavirus positivity rate dropped below the 5% threshold the World Health Organization recommends governments reach before reopening was June 3, 2020.
DHEC, which recently changed the way it calculates percent positivity, determines the rate by taking the total number of positive viral tests and dividing those by the total number of tests taken. The number of cases is lower than the number of positive tests because some people take multiple tests.
The low positivity rate coincided with 779 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and eight deaths from the virus, DHEC said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, which have been on a precipitous decline since mid-January, dropped Monday to 993, their lowest point in nearly three months and the first time they’ve dipped below 1,000 since Dec. 1.
Since March of last year, the state has reported 437,018 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7,417 deaths from the virus.
South Carolina counts an additional 68,571 cases, including 124 Monday, as probable positives. They also count another 915 deaths, including two Monday, as probable COVID-19 deaths.
DHEC defines a probable case as someone who has had a positive antigen test or has virus symptoms and is at high risk for infection. Probable deaths are ones where the death certificate lists COVID-19 as the cause of or a contributing factor to death, but the person was not tested for the virus.
The state has reported a cumulative total of 505,589 probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases and 8,332 probable and confirmed deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
As of Monday, South Carolina had received 594,950 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine and 489,800 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
The agency reported Monday that 382,542 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 167,936 first doses of the Moderna vaccine had been administered so far. Another 152,161 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 68,103 second doses of the Moderna vaccine also have been administered.
Administrations of the Moderna vaccine currently lag behind Pfizer administrations because Moderna shots had originally been used exclusively to vaccinate long-term care facility residents and staff as part of a federal pharmacy partnership. In recent weeks, the Moderna vaccine, which does not have the same ultra-cold storage requirements as the Pfizer vaccine, has been shipped to pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and other providers, and its uptake is expected to increase.
Health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, and all people age 65 and older are currently eligible to receive vaccinations.
In addition to the 771,000 first and second vaccine doses that have been administered, South Carolinians have scheduled another 488,000 vaccination appointments, DHEC said.
Anyone eligible to receive a vaccine who would like to get one can use DHEC’s locator tool to find a provider with availability near you at www.scdhec.gov/vaxlocator. For those who lack internet access, DHEC has launched a phone line — 866-365-8110 — where operators are available every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to help people searching for information about vaccine providers.
State health officials advise South Carolinians to continue taking measures to mitigate spread of COVID-19 as the vaccination rollout progresses in the months ahead.
DHEC urges anyone who is symptomatic or who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 to get tested themselves and recommends routine monthly testing for anyone who is out and about in the community, even if they are asymptomatic.
To find a testing location near you, visit DHEC’s website at scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-testing-locations.
How are hospitals being impacted?
The number of COVID-19 inpatients statewide dropped Monday to 993, nearly 60% lower than their peak of 2,466 in mid-January. Coronavirus patients account for 11.5% of all hospital inpatients.
Of those hospitalized with COVID-19, 231 are in intensive care units, and 135 are on ventilators, according to DHEC.
Total hospital bed occupancy, which has hovered around 80% for months, was at 77% Monday, while ICU bed occupancy was 73%, data show.
In Richland County, 72% of hospital beds were occupied Monday, and in Lexington County, 82% of beds are full, data show.
Which counties were affected?
COVID-19 cases have fallen significantly in all regions over the past month, but remain highest in the Upstate.
The Upstate’s seven-day average of new cases is about 570, the lowest it’s been since mid-November, according to DHEC.
Greenville County, the state’s most populous county, has reported more than twice as many cases as any other county in South Carolina over the past month.
In the Upstate Monday, Greenville again led all counties with 100 COVID-19 cases, followed by Spartanburg County with 80 cases and Anderson County with 75 cases, according to DHEC.
COVID-19 cases in the Midlands are slightly below the Upstate’s numbers, with a seven-day average of 470 new cases, according to DHEC. Richland led all Midlands counties Monday with 45 cases, followed by York with 40 and Lexington with 33.
The number of positive tests in the state’s Pee Dee and Lowcountry regions are below the Upstate and the Midlands, and have returned to pre-holiday season levels.
Horry County’s 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases were most in the PeeDee Monday, while Charleston County’s 47 cases were most in the Lowcountry.
Of the eight confirmed deaths reported Monday, six were elderly (65 and older) and two were middle-aged individuals (35-64), according to DHEC.
South Carolinians from infancy to age 106 have died after contracting COVID-19, but the disease has taken the greatest toll on elderly residents.
The average age of all South Carolinians who have died from coronavirus complications is 76, and the vast majority of those who died — 88% — were over 60, data show.
The deaths reported Monday included two Kershaw County residents and a single resident each from Charleston, Dillon, Dorchester, Horry, Orangeburg and York counties.
How is COVID-19 trending in SC?
Daily case rates have dropped significantly in recent weeks, down nearly 43% from the month prior, with 51 people per 100,000 testing positive for the novel coronavirus over the past 30 days, according to DHEC.
Coronavirus deaths, which lag behind cases, reached a record weekly high in late January and are on the decline but remain elevated, according to DHEC. The agency has reported 1,887 virus deaths, or nearly 23% of the state’s cumulative death total, in the last 30 days.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped dramatically after reaching record highs last month. The number of coronavirus inpatients reported Monday is about 39% less than the average reported daily over the past month, according to DHEC.
The number of people being tested across the state has declined slightly in the past month. An average of 580 tests per 100,000 individuals have been performed daily over the last 30 days, about 4% less than the month prior, data show.
The state’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate, which provides an idea of how widespread infection is in a testing area, is 7.6% and the 30-day positivity rate is 9.5%.
Elevated percent positive rates indicate more people are likely infected with COVID-19 in the community who have not yet been tested and that testing may need to be ramped up.
The World Health Organization last year advised governments not to reopen until percent positive rates were at 5% or lower for at least 14 days.
Nearly 12% of all COVID-19 tests administered in South Carolina since last March have come back positive, according to DHEC. The state’s seven-day percent positive rate briefly dipped below 5% in mid-May but has otherwise remained above the WHO’s guidelines for reopening.
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Zak Koeske is a state government and politics reporter for The State. Before joining The State in 2020, Zak covered education, government and policing issues in the Chicago area. He’s also written for publications in his native Pittsburgh and the New York/New Jersey area.