Harvard researchers: Local SC, GA counties need stay-at-home orders to reduce ‘uncontrollable spread’ of coronavirus


MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – As South Carolina reaches another record high of coronavirus patients hospitalized, Harvard University researchers say nearly 40% of counties in the state need “stay-at-home” orders to mitigate the virus.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reported Tuesday that 1,324 hospital beds in the state were used by COVID-19 positive patients or people under investigation for the virus. That tops the previous high on Monday of 1,260 hospitalizations. Tuesday’s number of COVID-19 patients is also 30% higher than a week ago and 61% higher than two weeks ago.

DHEC also reported 20.7% of coronavirus tests were positive Tuesday. In May, the World Health Organization recommended just 5% of tests come back positive for 14 days before a government allows reopening.

Johns Hopkins University ranks South Carolina as the third-highest state for percentage of positive tests over the last week at 16.63%. That’s only behind Arizona (25.29%) and Florida (18.71%). North Carolina is 19th at 6.67%.

Georgia is ranked as the eighth-highest for percentage of positive tests over the last week at 13.17%.

As of Tuesday, The Harvard Global Health Institute says Jasper and Beaufort counties are two of the 18 counties at a risk alert level of “red.” That means the infection rate is higher than 25 new daily cases per 100,000 people over the last week. The Harvard researchers say a stay-at-home order is necessary in those counties to mitigate COVID-19 because the rates are past the tipping point for “uncontrollable spread.”

Hampton county is one of the counties in the “orange” alert level, which means those counties are seeing 10-25 new daily cases per 100,000 people over the last week. The researchers advise implementing stay-at-home orders unless enough testing and contact tracing can be used.

Marlboro County is the only one in South Carolina with a “yellow” alert level, which means it’s seeing 1-10 new daily cases per 100,000 people over the last week. The researchers say “strategic choices must be made about which package of non-pharmaceutical interventions to use for control.”

In Georgia, the Harvard study says Chatham County is one of many counties at a risk alert level of “red.” In WSAV’s viewing area, nine counties are of “red” alert level, 10 are of “orange” alert level, and two are of “yellow” alert level.

No Coastal Empire counties are of “green” alert level, meaning they are on track for containment with less than one case per 100,000 people.

Click here to see how each Georgia county ranks.

This comes as a WalletHub study says South Carolina is 10th in the nation in fewest coronavirus restrictions, but fifth-highest in death rate. Georgia is 16th in the nation in fewest coronavirus restrictions, and 24th-highest in death rate.

“Especially when we’re looking at reopening in terms of the economy, I think you have to consider health here as well,” said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez.

WalletHub says South Carolina has the fewest coronavirus restrictions in the U.S. for child care programs. It’s also second-fastest for reopening large gatherings, restaurants and bars.

According to WalletHub, South Carolina is also sixth-fastest in reopening “non-essential businesses,” has the seventh-least strict “shelter in place order” and has the ninth-fewest travel restrictions. The state also ranks 23rd for most requirements to wear masks in public and 29th for most workplace temperature screenings.

Gonzalez says the state’s death rate may not go down if many of the restrictions stay relaxed.

“I know a lot of governors, a lot of state legislatures are looking more so at the economy, so it really is what the state itself is prioritizing,” she said.

In Myrtle Beach, where tourism is the largest industry, Mayor Brenda Bethune said Monday on CNN that there are no plans to reduce visitors yet.

“Not at this time,” said Mayor Bethune. “We are monitoring this virus daily, as is everyone across our nation, and I believe everybody is doing the best that we can.”

Gov. Henry McMaster says football, theaters and concerts won’t start up again if the virus keeps spreading. He hasn’t put back any restrictions he lifted when reopening in the pandemic.

Arizona, Florida and Texas are three states that have reinstituted some coronavirus restrictions as cases dramatically rise there.

“South Carolina hasn’t rebuked any of those leniencies so far,” Gonzalez said. “I know many other states have to really control that death rate and get it to more manageable levels.”

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