Photo by Mélissa Jeanty on Unsplash
We could already be in the second wave of COVID-19 cases, according to some South Carolina epidemiologists. In the last several days, the state has seen record breaking numbers of novel coronavirus cases reported, with 428 logged on Tuesday, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control
"Definitely the reason for the spike is probably that people are going back to restaurants and going back shopping, they're doing all those things where you can come in contact with people who are just mildly ill or asymptomatic and spreading the disease around," Kathleen Cartmell, a Clemson University professor of public health sciences, said.
As of Tuesday, 15,228 people have tested positive for the disease in South Carolina and 568 have died from the illness. Mike Sweat, the director of global and community health at the Medical University of South Carolina, believes the current increase of cases isn't a "huge" spike, but notes that there could be a much larger bout in the future.
"It's a relatively low-grade epidemic [in Charleston County]," he said. "Having said that, it can take off. We know that from so many locations, transmission can just skyrocket over night."
"I think there's a good likelihood we could see this going up," Sweat added. Predicting the future of the pandemic is difficult as some experts claim a series of small waves will happen and others believe the disease could die down only to come back with force in the fall, much like the 1918 flu epidemic. "I think the verdict's out on this," he said. "We're likely to see this undulation of waves over time."
Cartmell said it was "perfectly predictable" that an increased infection rate would occur when people started going out more often. She recommends masks, continued social distancing, general cleanliness and hand sanitizer use as people venture out going forward.
Sweat and Cartmell agree that a vaccine will be important to keeping citizens safe at this point. "I don't think it's likely it's going to be stopped through behaviors," Sweat said. "The virus is there in a large way, it's well distributed throughout the country and all communities and it's highly contagious. What would stop it, primarily, is a vaccine. Most people who really study this closely feel we're going to be grappling with this until a vaccine occurs."
Charleston County's rate of cases, about 203 per 100,000 people, is comparatively low to more rural counties, even though the number of Charleston infections is higher. Statewide, approximately 14.7 percent of those tested for COVID-19 are positive for the disease, according to June 8 DHEC figures — up 6 percent since June 7.
While high volumes of people have gathered in public in the last week to protest police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, it is unlikely the spike in cases was caused by protests. "It's too early, looking at the data we're looking at now," Cartmell said. "If the protests have any impact, we're going to see that in the future."