South Carolina to stay open despite spike in virus cases

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina health officials issued a warning Wednesday that people who go to graduations, businesses or other recently opened places and aren't careful about wearing masks or social distancing may be contributing to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the state.

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But they also said the state likely won't shut down businesses again, saying damaging the economy doesn't help anyone. People need to take responsibility for their own safety, they said.

Health officials reported 235 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday. At least 235 cases have been reported in each of the past six days, including the three highest case counts since the pandemic started. Before last week, only eight days had more than 235 cases during the three months the virus has been in the state.

For the past week, health officials had mostly blamed a significant increase in testing. But the messaging changed Wednesday. They cited people not taking precautions at graduation parties and other large gatherings as a possible contributor and urged people to wash their hands, wear masks in public, keep 6 feet (2 meters) away from people and stay at home when possible.

“People are getting pretty comfortable with being out and about and not practicing social distancing and not wearing a mask," said Dr. Joan Duwve, Director of Public Health for the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Other figures are also concerning. South Carolina reported 17 deaths Wednesday, the second most in any day behind the peak of 20 deaths on May 27. A total of 518 people have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic and more than 12,650 cases have been reported, DHEC said.

The percentage of positive tests averaged over 14 days and 28 days are both rising, which are figures DHEC has said it uses to determine if the spread of the virus is under control.

South Carolina started reopening the state about a month ago and Gov. Henry McMaster has suggested he doesn't plan on closing businesses again even if infections rise.

Duwve echoed those thoughts Wednesday, saying economic welfare is part of protecting the well being of the state's citizens.

“There are steps we can be taking without having government come in and say we are going to shut everything down," Duwve said.

Another wave of infections could be coming in the next week or two. Health officials are worried about protests across South Carolina over racial inequality after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck after he was in handcuffs.

Some protesters have worn masks and some haven't. They have ended up in tightly packed groups and in some cases have breathed in tear gas or pepper spray. And there has been plenty of yelling.

“The louder you speak, the more likely you are to transmit if you are infected," Duwve said.


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