Predicted SC COVID-19 deaths rise as more reopening debated

May 5, 2020 GMT
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Customers eat outdoors at Creek Ratz in Murrells Inlet, S.C. Rules for outdoor dining in South Carolina amid the coronavirus were relaxed on Monday, May 4, 2020. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)
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Customers eat outdoors at Creek Ratz in Murrells Inlet, S.C. Rules for outdoor dining in South Carolina amid the coronavirus were relaxed on Monday, May 4, 2020. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster continues to gather data and opinions on reopening society during the coronavirus, the state’s peak of cases and deaths has been pushed further into the future, with predictions of hundreds more people dying.

The new prediction is for more than 1,100 deaths by early August from COVID-19. Less than two weeks ago, state health officials predicted fewer than 700 deaths by early August, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control. The latest epidemiological estimates reflect that virus and infection rates have not dropped significantly, so with more people circulating, more people will fall ill.

The predictions released Monday also indicate the increase in cases reported each week is near a peak and should start to fall around the middle of May.

State health officials reported there have been nearly 6,850 cases of the coronavirus in South Carolina, with 296 deaths, according to Tuesday’s update from DHEC.

McMaster, a Republican, acknowledged the desire of businesses to get back to making money and people to get out of their homes. During his introductory remarks Tuesday at his Accelerate SC committee, he said he’s balancing those wishes with a need to stop the virus from spreading rapidly again

“I get letters from ladies that are dying to go to the beauty parlor. Of course, we don’t want them to die when they go to the beauty parlor,” the governor said.

Up next is reopening businesses like barber shops and gyms as well as dine-in restaurants. McMaster said he is studying and consulting with health experts and could have an announcement either late this week or early next week about when and how that might happen.

McMaster said he is paying attention to other states that are reopening faster, but keeping in mind a lot of people aren’t ready to get out, especially older and more vulnerable residents.

“We’ve got to do a lot of balancing and a lot of thinking and a lot of innovating in order to get South Carolina back on top,” McMaster said.

He also is paying attention to case counts and deaths, but said additional information discovered in the past few months about how the virus spreads and can be combated is also important.

“I think we’re moving just right because we have information, facts and statistics,” McMaster said.

South Carolina is already well on the path to reopening. On Monday, McMaster ended the state’s stay-at-home order. Restaurants can now serve diners outdoors with 8 feet (2.4 meters) of separation between tables.

Myrtle Beach reopened its beaches and let hotels begin welcoming guests. The smaller beach towns around Charleston are under pressure to reopen to visitors during the day and allow vacationers to return.

Charleston itself, heavily dependent on tourism, is considering more stringent rules for restaurants like limiting capacity to half the number of people allowed by the fire marshal and having hand sanitizer available for any customer. The City Council delayed a vote on the new rules Monday to get more input from restaurant owners.

“I would like for Charleston to have the reputation for taking steps to be the safest place we could possibly be,” Mayor John Tecklenburg said. “I remain convinced that will lead to a more robust recovery than letting things get out of hand.”

Health experts have said since the virus first started spreading that a key to reopening is more testing so the state can get a better handle on how many people have had the virus.

The number of infections in South Carolina is thought to be far higher than the nearly 6,800 reported — maybe even as many as 70,000 infected in the past two months — because the vast majority of people have not been tested and studies suggest people can have the virus without feeling sick.

DHEC is setting up smaller testing sites across the state where people don’t need appointments. One was running Tuesday in Society Hill, near a hot spot in Florence. Two others are in the northeast suburbs of Columbia, where some of the highest rates of infection in South Carolina are reported.

Democratic lawmakers in Columbia helped set up the sites, saying the testing will provide the kind of data needed to determine if the state should continue to reopen or take more precautions.

They are in areas with larger black populations. African Americans make up 27% of the South Carolina’s population but 53% of the COVID-19 deaths and 44% of the total cases, according to DHEC data.

“The more information we have, the more informed decisions we can make,” said Rep. Ivory Thigpen, a Democrat from Columbia.


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