Well, this won’t make me many friends — perhaps a good thing in a time of pandemic.
It’s increasingly clear that if we want to prevent the mounting cases and death tolls seen in other countries and even in some other states, we need to take quick, decisive action at the state level to further curb the spread of COVID-19.
That’s because despite seeing our schools and dining areas shuttered, South Carolina is doing worse than 49 other states in staying home more, according to an analysis of cellphone travel data geospatial analysis company Descartes Labs.
Using the same data and GPS technology that computes your commute time notifies you of a shorter route, the company crunched the numbers and determined the Palmetto State lags behind everyone else in slowing travel during the past three weeks.
We were even narrowly beaten by such states as Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama — meaning those states are uttering, “Thank God for South Carolina!”
As of Friday, the state had experienced about a 20% drop in travel during weekdays — far less than the 40% nationwide drop.
And within the worst state in the nation for social distancing, Greenwood was the 7th worst county for trimming travel. That’s right, there are 38 counties doing better than we are. Meanwhile, McCormick County had the largest drop in travel in the state and is about on par with the nation.
Because we haven’t stayed at home, we are likely in trouble.
As this is being written, the new cases for Tuesday had not been released. However, there were 171 new cases in the past three days. In the three days before that, there were 88 new cases. In the three days before that, there were 28 new cases. In the three days before that, we had just nine cases.
While the rate is still a bit fluid, in part because we’re still in the early stages of this, the number of new confirmed tests in this state has been doubling or tripling every three days. If this rate continues at the low end of this rate, an about 100% increase in new cases every three days, we’ll be at 1,000 total cases by Saturday. And by the following weekend, we’ll be averaging 1,000 new cases a day.
Many of those who’ve contracted the new coronavirus don’t need hospitalization, but if even 5-10% need a hospital bed and a ventilator, we’ll quickly run out of capacity in our health care system if the rate remains that steep. And if we run short on capacity to care for our sick, we could see a potentially staggering number of deaths in a short time.
Now, maybe the rate isn’t quite that steep. Perhaps more and quicker testing has helped move the needle a bit faster. It’s possible that closing dining areas and schools might have slowed the rate. The problem is, we don’t know yet. It takes anywhere from three to 14 days to show symptoms — the average is five — and that’s before getting a doctor’s appointment and waiting for test results. What we do today won’t affect new tests for a week or more.
That people aren’t staying at home, however, is a bad indicator for how well social distancing standards are working in our state. If we do hit 1,000 total cases on Saturday, we’ll know that we have yet to slow the rate and should expect to see 1,000 new cases a day the following weekend.
Unless, of course, we act before then because if we don’t, we could end up in a situation like what New York is seeing now — or even worse, like Italy.
Anyone who can work from home should work from home, as I will do today. If a job can’t be done from home and isn’t performing a vital service, such as working at a hospital, grocery or a public safety agency, the worker should be sent home — with a paycheck if possible.
This can’t be optional. It would be fully appropriate for Gov. Henry McMaster to issue a stay-at-home order, as has been done in a number of states. Or he could follow the lead of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in shuttering non-essential businesses. But it is increasingly clear that too many South Carolinians aren’t being the good neighbors we should expect and changing their behavior to protect the rest of us.
And while closing is far more than an inconvenience to businesses, some of which can’t weather missing even a day of sales, the toll a large-scale outbreak in our community would take would be far worse.
By not acting, by not taking significant steps to curtail the spread of COVID-19, South Carolina will still see businesses temporarily close and lose money, but by disease instead of prevention. And this disease could take a deep toll on South Carolina, especially those who are older or have underlying health problems.
Contact Assistant Editor Matthew Hensley on Twitter @IJMattHensley.