Huge spike in COVID-19 cases overwhelms S. Carolina tracers

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina reported more people in the hospital and more deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday than any day since the pandemic began in March, overwhelming the ability to track cases and try to slow the spreading outbreak, the state’s top infectious disease specialist said.

The spike in cases started just after the Memorial Day weekend. With the July 4th holiday weekend looming, state Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said she fears unless people take precautions against the virus seriously, hospitals will be strained to the limit and the death toll will be stunning.

“We could see cases rise to the levels none of us could have previously imagined. This is a public health crisis,” Bell said.

Gov. Henry McMaster, speaking minutes later, issued no new orders. But he did remind people he has not lifted restrictions on large crowds, so having fans at high school and college football games could be at risk if the spread of the virus doesn’t slow.

“The responsibility lies not on someone stopping you, but on you stopping you,” McMaster said.

South Carolina ranks third in the nation in newly diagnosed cases over the past 14 days adjusted by population, trailing only Arizona and Florida.

South Carolina reported 1,497 new, diagnosed COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the Department of Health and Environmental Control said.

Twenty-four new deaths were reported, the most in a single day. The death toll is now 759 with more deaths under investigation, officials said.

Deaths had been lagging behind other alarming figures including the 19% rate of positive tests and the record 1,160 people hospitalized Wednesday with COVID-19.

Once newly diagnosed cases top 1,000 a day — as they have in 11 of the past 13 days — tracing the contacts of everyone infected becomes virtually impossible and that makes it harder to fight the virus by isolating infected people, Bell said.

Instead, contact tracers look at infections from places with a high risk of spreading such as nursing homes, prisons and large gatherings, Bell said.

“As cases increase, we have to prioritize on settings where the risk is higher,” Bell said.

McMaster again said Wednesday he has no plans to issue statewide orders to wear masks. Dozens of local city and county governments have now passed their own mask rules, creating a patchwork of different requirements and penalties. Some local governments have simply passed resolutions urging people to wear facial coverings. Some have taken no action.

“One size does not fit all,” the governor said. “We have 271 local jurisdictions that can take action if they see fit.”

Any business that doesn’t take precautions against COVID-19 could end up on the wrong end of lawsuits, McMaster said.

Anybody operating a nightclub illegally or holding a concert against the governor’s orders doesn’t have to be caught in the act to face criminal charges, but instead could be charged weeks later if COVID-19 cases are traced back, McMaster said.

There is still time to take responsibility and reverse this spike before it gets out of control, but that window is closing quickly, especially if precautions aren’t taken over the holiday weekend, Bell said.

“If we don’t take that action now, if we don’t social distance, if we don’t wear our masks, we are going to see more of our friends, our family members, our loved ones who will continue to become ill, who will be hospitalized — and many will die,” Bell said.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at


Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at and