Roper: ‘The threat is still out there’

County administrator discusses rising number of COVID-19 cases

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

COUNTY — Pickens County has passed the threshold of 109 active COVID-19 cases, acting administrator Ken Roper announced last week.

During a Facebook Live video on Friday, Roper said he wanted to talk to residents for two reasons — test results seen over the past week or so and information from the governor’s office and state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell.

“Those two things taken together are kind of concerning,” he said. “We added 14 new cases in Pickens County, new positive cases for COVID-19, (Thursday). We now have a total of 242 cases that have been tested positive since March 20 in Pickens County.

Roper said as of Friday, Pickens County was listed as having 109 active cases — which correlates with positive tests in the past 14 days. After Roper’s video, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported 20 new cases in the county on Friday, 17 on Saturday, 15 on Sunday and seven on Monday.

Pickens County had had a total of 303 positive tests as of Monday afternoon. The county has the 12th-lowest COVID-19 rate of South Carolina’s 46 counties, with 238.8 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents.

One school of thought says “as we ramp up testing, we’re going to get more positives,” Roper said.

“So that may be the explanation,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m looking to guidance from the state to see whether or not that’s the explanation.”

He said the question is whether the rate of positives is increasing faster than the number of tests.

“And we’ve got some data that suggests it might,” Roper said.

The positive tests results in a neighboring county are concerning.

“Greenville County leads the state,” Roper said. “It leads the state far and away — there’s no close second. Charleston County’s not close. Richland County’s not close. Greenville County has over 1,000 positives now. Those are active positives — over 1,000.

“And we’re right beside them,” he continued. “We’ve got (Interstate) 85 and we’ve got (U.S. Highway) 123 and we’ve got Highway 183 and we’ve got Highway 11 — they all come out of Greenville County and drive right into Pickens.”

Of the county’s 109 active cases on Friday, Roper said, “a huge majority of them are in 29640 and 29642 (zip codes).”

He said 37 of the cases were in 29642, 27 were in 29640, 13 were in 29657 and 19 were in 29671.

“We see that data and it causes concern for me,” Roper said. “Now that these numbers are rising, what does it mean for us?”

Roper said he didn’t know if he had “hard and fast answers.”

“I just want to keep coming back to you with the data that I have and the concern that I have,” he said. “You can see that it’s skewed heavily to the eastern side of the county, closest to Greenville.”

As of Friday, Pickens County had more positive active cases than Anderson County, despite Anderson County’s higher population, Roper said. On Monday, Anderson County had the sixth-lowest rate in the state with 171.31 cases per 100,000 residents.

“I do believe the proximity to Greenville is what’s going on,” he said. “So what does that mean? That means, among different parts of our community, we’re going in and out of Greenville, we’re in those dense population centers, at work and at social engagements and in restaurants and we’re coming back to Pickens County. Or folks from Greenville County who are in a situation where they’re tightly packed together are coming to Pickens County for something and they’re bringing it with them.”

The rising positive cases are “a call for us to redouble our efforts,” Roper said.

“And that’s a little frustrating to me, because I know that we went through such a severe closure here in March and April and in May we started looking at how we would open back up — and we’re not going to reverse that now,” he said.

Officials will continue to watch things and communicate with and get feedback from the public, Roper said.

“Because the threat is still out there and the threat is very real and the threat is very personal,” he said.

As of Monday, Pickens County had had four deaths due to COVID-19, and South Carolina was up to 602 deaths.

“We’ve had over 115,000 deaths in the United States of America,” Roper said Friday.

Residents should continue practicing social distancing, Roper said. He also said people should practice good hygiene, wash their hands and not touch any surfaces if it can be helped.

“Just use common sense,” Roper said.

Don’t go out unless you have to, Roper urged.

“If you do go out, wear a mask,” he said. “The idea of the mask is something we really have to reengage with.”

Roper said everyone is “counting on all of us to make the decision that is better for everybody.”

“It’s going to be on us to choose to do that, unless it gets a little bit worse,” he said. “If it gets a little bit worse, the governor’s going to be looking at other options, I fear.”