Officials: Masks essential to stop pandemic

County surpasses 500 COVID-19 cases

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

PICKENS — State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell says it is essential that residents wear masks in public and stay physically distanced from each other.

Bell released a statement Thursday on rising COVID-19 numbers in South Carolina.

“Every one of us has a role to play in stopping COVID-19,” she said. “This virus does not spread on its own. It’s spread around our state by infected people who carry it wherever they go — their work, the supermarket, the post office, a friend’s house. By not following public health precautions, many are putting all at risk.”

There is no COVID-19 vaccine, Bell said.

“There are only individual behaviors and actions we must all maintain that help stop its spread,” she said.

Officials understand many residents are tired of hearing the same warnings and taking the same daily precautions, “but this virus does not take a day off,” Bell said.

“Every day that we don’t all do our part, we are extending the duration of illnesses, missed work, hospitalizations and deaths in our state,” she said.

Acting Pickens County administrator Ken Roper discussed the pandemic in a Facebook Live video Friday morning.

“The numbers on the COVID testing and on the positive results have really gone up,” he said.

In late March, the county had one or two cases, “and those cases stayed relatively consistent throughout April,” Roper said.

“We started getting our hopes up in early May, because we thought ‘We’re seeing some signs that the active cases may go down,’” he said. “With the advent of more testing, we saw the numbers go up, and we talked about how we would expect that to happen.”

But with active cases rising, “you can’t help but be concerned as you look at the chart and you see what’s happening now,” Roper said.

“Is it still just the widespread availability of (testing) leading to more positives?” he said. “I don’t have the answer there. I just know that it’s something we have to continue to watch.”

As of Thursday, there were 186 active COVID-19 cases in the county within the last 14 days, Roper said.

“Based on this trend line, that’s going to be 200 today,” he said Friday morning.

Those numbers skyrocketed past 200 on Friday afternoon, as DHEC announced 59 new cases in Pickens County. State officials announced 34, 35 and 27 new cases the following three days, and as of Monday afternoon, the county had had 529 confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

Pickens County’s rate of infection has also steadily climbed, with the county sitting at 19th-lowest of the state’s 46 counties on Monday with 416.92 cases per 100,000 residents. The county had had one of the five lowest rates in the state for much of the past two months.

There have been four deaths in Pickens County due to COVID-19.

“That number has stayed consistent here for a couple of weeks, thank goodness,” Roper said.

South Carolina has had about 1,000 new cases each day for the past several days, pushing the state’s total of confirmed positive tests to 25,666 as of DHEC’s Monday update. There had been 659 deaths related to the virus across the state as of Monday.

In Pickens County, the ZIP codes closest to Greenville were the ZIP codes with the highest concentration of cases late last week, Roper said.

“Greenville leads the state,” he said.

Greenville County and Horry County are leading the state on case numbers, “and Greenville has far and away more positive cases than anyone else,” Roper said.

The 29640 ZIP code had 155 total cases as of Sunday afternoon, the most in Pickens County.

“Most of the cases are clustered on the eastern side or on 123,” Roper said.

We can learn lessons from that, he said.

“Traveling, getting out, getting out in concentrations of people is a risk factor,” Roper said.

The political will isn’t there for another shutdown, Roper said.

“The harm that it was causing the businesses and the individuals as deemed by the population to be too broad and too widespread,” he said.

But the coronavirus is spreading.

“Whether it’s because of more testing or not, this is the reality,” Roper said, pointing to a graph that showed the drastic rise in cases. “And what the reality tells us is the virus is widespread. It’s widespread in Pickens County. It tells us we need to be taking precautions and we don’t need to stop.”

He said he believes too many residents aren’t wearing masks in public.

“I look back at what we did initially to try and stem the spread of the disease and I wish we had made masks more a part of that process,” Roper said. “I wish we’d done more education about masks up front. Maybe less about closing businesses and more about getting it to be a normal thing to see folks with masks.”

A COVID-19 vaccine “isn’t coming any time soon,” he said.

‘In Pickens County, we can take care of each other,” Roper said.

Roper encouraged residents to wear masks this summer — medical N95 masks, disposable masks or homemade masks.

“Let’s make that the norm,” he said. “Because otherwise, these numbers are going to continue to climb. It’s a very dangerous situation we’re in.”

Historically, South Carolinians have willingly made sacrifices for the benefit of all, Bell said.

“Stopping the spread of this disease will not be easy,” she said. “However, I am confident in our willingness to take the current actions necessary of wearing face masks and social distancing in order to care for each other. Together we can meet this challenge.”