Health officials: SC COVID-19 cases may reach 8,000 by May

COLUMBIA, S.C. — (AP) — Two Republicans in the South Carolina House have joined a growing call for Gov. Henry McMaster to issue a stay at home order to fight the coronavirus.

The letter from Reps. Neal Collins of Easley and Gary Clary of Clemson was sent before state health officials released their COVID-19 projections for the first time Wednesday.

Officials predict more than 2,650 cases by April 2 and more than 8,050 cases by May 2, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, which warned the estimate could change significantly.

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The estimates are based on mathematical modeling and health officials emphasized the spread can be slowed if people stay at home — or accelerate if they head to the beach in groups or hold block parties during this weekend's nice weather.

“It doesn’t have a way of taking into account whether social distancing is used," said State Epidemiologist Linda Bell of DHEC.

The letter from the representatives praises the governor for closing schools quickly on March 16.

But the lawmakers also said they are worried that if further steps such as closing gyms and day cares and all but essential stores aren't taken soon, the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to rise.

“Knowing the infected today will overburden our hospitals in two weeks, we are requesting you act with urgency," Collins and Clary wrote. “Aggressive action will slow the growth and buy us precious time to prepare. It will return us to normalcy sooner.”

In his last public appearance Monday, McMaster said he had not issued a shelter-in-place order yet because “many South Carolinians are taking precautions that will render that unnecessary.” He did not rule out such an order in the future, however.

In a tweet Wednesday, McMaster asked any out-of-state visitors to South Carolina planning to stay in the state for two or more nights to isolate themselves for two weeks when they arrive.

Governors in neighboring North Carolina and Georgia also have not passed broad stay at home orders, but a number of local governments in those states have passed their own requirements.

South Carolina's largest city joined the chorus Tuesday as Charleston passed a stay-at-home ordinance. Mayor John Tecklenburg said he worried the city might be running out of time to head off the virus before it overwhelms hospitals.

More than 420 COVID-19 cases have been reported in South Carolina with seven deaths, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said in its daily update Wednesday.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

McMaster issued a statement Tuesday saying he would likely close schools through the end of April. The lawmakers' letter said he should go ahead and cancel classes until the end of the school year.

The director of South Carolina's health agency Wednesday didn't directly address President Donald Trump's hope that stay-at-home orders and recommendations could be lifted by Easter on April 12.

“It’s hard to predict the future because the future is going to depend on how we follow directions to flatten the curve," DHEC Director Rick Toomey said.

The letter from Collins and Clary also asks to postpone South Carolina's primary elections, scheduled for June 9, until August. Filing for the elections started March 16 and ends March 30. Legislative action would be needed to move the elections.

The letter said McMaster's bold decision to close schools quickly was key to prevent things from getting worse.

“We know there was debate as to delaying the closure,” Clary and Collins wrote. “It will be forever unknown how many lives you saved by closing immediately — it slowed transmission allowing more preparation and was a wake-up call for many of our citizens.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.