As COVID cases in SC surge, MUSC expert says Charleston is in a ‘code red situation’

A sobering analysis from experts at the Medical University of South Carolina found that nearly all of the COVID-19 cases they are seeing now are being caused by the super-contagious Delta variant.

Michael Sweat, a Ph.D researcher with MUSC and the lead of its Epidemiology Intelligence Project, said this week that the impact of the coronavirus in the Charleston area has gone from bad to worse.

“It’s worse than I thought. We’re in a code red situation,” Sweat said in a statement Wednesday. “I worry that people aren’t realizing this is happening.”

On Friday afternoon, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported COVID-19 cases had surpassed 3,000 for the first time since February.

It continues the drumbeat of ever-rising COVID-19 cases in South Carolina.

Earlier this week, the state health agency reported 1,651 confirmed and 414 probable new COVID-19 cases across the Palmetto State.

Until Friday, it was the highest number of cases in a single day in almost six months.

Cases in the tri-county area, which includes Charleston, Berekely and Dorchester counties, hit 2,951 for the week that ended Aug. 3, MUSC’s data found.

The week before, it was 1,230. That’s a 140% increase.

“Dorchester County has the highest rate in the state right now, growing rapidly,” Sweat said, referring to its rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 for the week ending July 30-Aug 4.

“Maybe Dorchester’s a little different with vaccination, but I think it’s just like you see all over — it gets into a county, and then people start interacting, and it’s spreading through networks in those counties,” Sweat said.

Almost every COVID sample checked at MUSC, the health system reports, is now the delta variant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the strain more contagious than the common cold, seasonal flu, Ebola and smallpox.

“Not even a month ago, we were down to almost nothing in the tri-county area. The increase is probably due to a combination of the same seasonality that we saw last year — when it’s hot out, people gather inside with air conditioning. They’re also traveling more. But I think delta’s probably explaining a lot of this,” Sweat said.

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COVID-19’s impact in the Charleston area has now gone from “significant” to “severe.”

Statewide, there were 2,535 new confirmed cases and 701 probable cases. Eight new confirmed deaths and three probable deaths from COVID also were reported.

“This time last year we didn’t have the ultimate tool in the toolbox, which is the vaccine. Now, we have it,” said Heather Woolwine, a spokeswoman for MUSC Health.

Sweat said anyone who is not vaccinated and hasn’t had an infection should consider themselves as “high risk.”

“It’s really just kind of amazing how quickly this can transmit,” Sweat said.

Earlier this week MUSC said 31 people were COVID-19 patients at its hospital in downtown Charleston.

Of those 31 patients, 10 are in its COVID-19 intensive care. Seven of the 31 in-patients are on ventilators, MUSC reported.


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