MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The post-holiday surge of coronavirus cases has slowed down dramatically in South Carolina, but doctors warn that what’s needed to crush the virus is far from over.

The South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health (IMPH) says Florence and Dillon are two of the three counties with the highest rates of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. The IMPH released a study last week that it did with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

IMPH executive director Maya Pack says Dillon and Florence counties were so high because of more community spread due to less testing, racial inequalities in healthcare and more pre-existing chronic illnesses.

“In the last year it was measured, Dillon [County] ranked 43 out of 46 counties in the state for overall health outcomes,” said Pack.

The IMPH also says South Carolina’s COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people jumped 58.2% last month. Since the pandemic’s highest peak around Jan. 10, there are signs for cautious optimism.

According to DHEC data, the state’s weekly case rate has been almost cut in half since mid-January to a level not seen since before Christmas. In our area, coronavirus cases have dropped as much as around 70% in Georgetown County and parts of the Pee Dee.

Here’s how much the seven-day case averages have declined from each county’s mid-January high point to DHEC’s numbers through Feb. 2:

CountyPercent Decrease Since Mid-January Peak
Based on DHEC data through Feb. 2

“That Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years spike seems to be going down a little bit, but I hope folks don’t get complacent,” said Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center (CMC).

Dr. Richardson says about half as many people with COVID-19 were at CMC this week. DHEC’s website showed hospital bed occupancy in the Pee Dee region (which includes Horry and Georgetown counties) at 86.9% on Friday. That’s been a slow, but steady decrease from about 93% occupancy on Jan. 7.

While more vaccinations bring some hope, Dr. Richardson says the uncertainty around COVID-19’s new strains means the same precautions of masks and social distancing are still crucial.

“We’re going to continue to do exactly what we were doing before, but a lot of this is still speculation,” he said. “From my perspective, what I’d like the community to know is viruses mutate. That’s not unusual.”

Dr. Richardson also says you shouldn’t forget about the flu as well, as CMC saw as many flu cases in January as it did in the three months before.