COL.UMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — Amid the ongoing debate over masks and vaccinations and students’ return to school in South Carolina, the number of young people infected with COVID-19 has grown exponentially since June, a DHEC official said Wednesday.
Dr. Jonathan Knoche, a media consultant for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, said cases in the 0 to 10 age group have swelled from 472 in June to 2,415 in July and 22,212 in August. That represents a 3,071% increase since June.
Among 11- to 20-year-olds, the number of cases during that same time increased from 975 in June to 4,419 in July and 22,212 in August, Knoche said. That represents a 2,178% increase since June.
The growing concern among younger people is also reflected in the latest statistics available from Horry County Schools, where slightly more than 2% of the district’s roughly 45,000 students are infected and 22% are being required to quarantine.
With children younger than 12 still not yet eligible to get a COVID vaccination, Knoche said during Wednesday’s weekly DHEC media briefing that the increase of pediatric cases is “significant and concerning.”
“One of the biggest concerns about these numbers is that many of these cases are among those who are too young to get vaccinated, so they’re relying on parents, older siblings, the rest of the population in their community to protect them through vaccination and masking and other safety protocols,” he said.
Currently, DHEC statistics show that 56.7% of South Carolina’s total population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 47.8% having completed the recommended vaccine regimen. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control included on DHEC’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that Horry County is slightly below the state average, with 53.5% having received one dose and 45.2% fully vaccinated.
While it’s accepted knowledge that the delta variant is more transmissible across the entire population, Knoche said there is no sound evidence that the delta variant causes more severe disease among any age group. The problem, he said, is the “sheer volume” of cases, especially among children in congregate settings like schools.
“What we’re seeing, I think, across the state right now is, in a setting with a highly transmissible delta variant strain of COVID-19, where children are now congregating in school settings with some people wearing masks. But I would say there’s probably a large proportion who aren’t wearing masks. I’d say it’s kind of a perfect storm for higher numbers of COVID cases in children, and that leads to, you know, just by the numbers at least, to more children winding up in the hospital, or in the ICU, or on a ventilator.”
Knoche continued to echo the advice given by numerous other DHEC officials in recent months; wear a mask and get vaccinated, he said.
“We’ve said it before and we will continue to say it,” he said. “We can end this pandemic if we increase our vaccination rates. To do that, we need all South Carolinians to do their part in protecting themselves and their loved ones.”