COVID growth rate in Tri-county leveling out - but at a high level

July 23, 2020
Graph showing COVID growth
The upper right side of this graph tells the story - COVID infections in the Charleston area are, at least for now, staying at a fairly steady level.

The latest update from the MUSC COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project suggests the spread of the coronavirus in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties is leveling out.

 

“The key message is, thank God the growth rate is slowing. But it’s settled at a high rate of infections,” said project leader Michael Sweat, Ph.D. “The outcome of that is, it’s putting stress on hospitals and the number of deaths is increasing.”

 

The epidemiology project posts Tri-county updates each week, using data not only from MUSC but also from state and federal agencies and other sources. 

 

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

About 2,600 new cases were diagnosed in the three Charleston-area counties over the last week. “That’s down a tad, but that’s still a big number,” Sweat said.

 

“Say 10% of those people are hospitalized – and that’s a conservative estimate. You’re looking at 260 hospitalizations a week from that. And when people go to the hospital, they don’t immediately get out, so it starts to add up. We’re definitely seeing that.”

 

The project’s green, yellow and red status system puts two of three large area hospitals in the yellow zone when it comes to their ability to treat all patients without having to use crisis measures. MUSC Health, the third one, is still green.

 

Meanwhile, the death rate in the Tri-county area from COVID-19 has steadily climbed to a weekly average of more than six people per day. “This is not a good trend,” Sweat said. “I think this could keep going up.”

 

The project’s update also notes that the average wait time for COVID-19 test results is now eight days, putting it in the red zone. Sweat said that’s part of a nationwide issue. “This is not unique to MUSC or Charleston. The demand has increased so much that it’s causing shortages of things like mechanical parts needed to run those tests. But all hands on are deck to try to resolve this issue.”

 

MUSC Health does about 20% of all COVID-19 testing in South Carolina. CEO Patrick Cawley, M.D., said his team is keeping a close eye on its capacity to test. Like Sweat, he cited problems with testing supplies, along with:

 

  • High demand for laboratory medical technicians to perform testing.
  • Limited biomedical technicians to repair lab instruments.
  • Limited ability to rely on outside reference labs for additional testing.

 

“Our goal is to maintain the quality, timeliness and volume of testing needed by our state and community. It is possible that one or all of these challenges may reduce our test volume capability. This could result in temporary changes to the testing paradigm in order to conserve tests for those requiring hospitalization, health care workers and first responders. This would allow MUSC Health to focus testing on patients who need it the most. No changes have been made at this time,” Cawley said.

 

Sweat said the fact that the growth rate of reported COVID-19 infections in the Tri-county has dropped from almost 5% to a little under 3% could help ease the strain on the testing system – if the numbers don’t surge again.

 

He’s cautiously optimistic about that. “I just think people are changing their behavior. They’re wearing masks more and not being as risky as they were before. More people also know someone who’s had the virus, which can be a real driving factor in getting people to take things seriously. All those things, I think, are happening, and it’s coming down, which is exactly what we hoped for.”

About the Author

Helen Adams

Keywords: COVID-19