COLUMBUS, S.C. (WBTW) – Get vaccinated. That continues to be the message from South Carolina health official as COVID-19, spurred by cases of the highly transmissible delta variant, continue to surge.

“I’ve never been more concerned about the health of our state as I am at this time,” Dr. Linda Bell, the state’s epidemiologist, said Wednesday afternoon during the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s weekly COVID-19 media briefing.

According to Bell, the pandemic is reaching a level experienced only once before, in January, with the second-highest rate of new, daily cases.  During a three-week period, Bell said COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state have tripled.

“And most sobering and tragic of all, as of today, our state has lost more than 10,000 lives to this deadly disease,” she said. “So, 10,007 South Carolinians who were loved by their families and friends are no longer with us.”

In addition, DHEC statistics show that between May 1 and Aug. 4, South Carolina saw 213 hospitalizations and 31 deaths among people who had been fully vaccinated.

A majority of those deaths could have been prevented by following infection-prevention guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DHEC, Bell said.

“Some in our nation and our state are making choices now that are causing us to lose a battle against an infectious disease for which we have the weapons to prevent,” she said. “More than 10,000 people have lost their lives in our state, and more than 45,000 doses of life-saving vaccine have expired and gone to waste in our state. The juxtaposition of these two facts is really heartbreaking.”

As a result, Bell said the delta variant of the virus continues to fuel hundreds, if not thousands of new cases in the state. There is also an increased risk of new variants forming that current vaccines might not work against.

“It previously seemed unimaginable, but we could soon be seeing 5,000 or 6,000 cases a day if we do not do more now, she said.

With the new school year starting and clear evidence that the delta variant can make students sicker for longer periods of time, Bell said, there could be a “perfect storm” if eligible students and teachers aren’t vaccinated and do not wear masks.

To illustrate her point, Bell said 68 student cases and 17 school-employee cases have already been reported during one week when only a handful of schools across the state were open. She also added that one person infected by the delta variant can spread the virus to as many as eight people, a number much higher than the original virus.

“We know that masks and vaccinations work,” she said. “Yet, too many people are not using these tools. So, please, I implore everyone to help our children and their incredible teachers to have a school year that they deserve.”

With many people waiting on vaccines to receive full FDA approval, Bell said they should not wait. The only major difference between emergency use authorizations now in place and full FDA approval have to do with the FDA’s requirement for more substantial information about the effectiveness of the vaccines.

“No vaccine can receive either designation of emergency use authorization or full FDA approval without meeting the same rigorous scientific standards for safety for effectiveness and manufacturing quality,” she said.