DHEC reports nearly 300 COVID-19 cases in South Carolina schools, continues to encourage masks, vaccines

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — After two weeks into the new school year, there have been nearly 300 COVID-19 cases reported in South Carolina schools.

This list includes 226 students in kindergarten through 12 grade and 61 teachers, according to statistics from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, which started tracking cases in schools again on Aug. 2.

Dr. Linda Bell, the state’s top epidemiologist, provided the statistics Wednesday afternoon during a weekly DHEC COVID-19 media briefing. She also mentioned the death of a 16-year-old student in Lancaster County that occurred before the start of school and the deaths of Horry County school board members Ray Winters and John Poston, all a result of COVID-19.

“Further deaths can be prevented,” Bell said. “When you consider that we’re barely two weeks into the 2021-2022 academic year, the reality of school without all of the available protective measures is scary for our children and for our teachers.”

Because many students are too young to be vaccinated, Bell said it’s important for them to wear masks and for older family members and friends to protect them by getting vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case, which is why we’re seeing this troubling start to the school year,” she said. “And this is not shocking. Science has shown us that a virus with one or more highly transmissible variants, combined with large groups, low vaccination rates and less masking creates a breeding ground for infection. We must increase our masking and our vaccinations if we want to stop the surge in cases and move back to normal activities.”

Bell also cited DHEC cited statistics to show the importance of the general population getting vaccinated. In July, she said 88% percent of cases, 77% of hospitalizations and 79% of deaths from COVID-19 were among people who were not fully vaccinated.

“We have lagging vaccination rates and higher transmission due to the delta variant,” she said. “But even with those factors, data confirms that being vaccinated reduces the chances of contracting COVID-19, and it slows the spread.”

In another development, the U.S. government on Wednesday recommended that all Americans get COVID-19 boosters shots to help protect them as evidence suggests that the effectiveness of vaccines is falling.

The plan calls for people to get the Moderna or Pfizer booster shots eight months after the completion of their original doses. Currently, only those who are immunocompromised are eligible for a booster shot. In addition, health officials are still trying to determine whether people who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will need to get a booster shot.

Bell said because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only released the recommendation on Wednesday, it remains too early to tell when DHEC will be able to begin rolling out the third shots. She also said the new recommendation does not mean the current vaccines are ineffective.

“It was also stressed that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are still effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” she said, referring to the CDC announcement. “So, it’s still important to get vaccinated now.”

Bell also touched on another aspect of the booster shots to potentially convince more people to be vaccinated, saying that it’s not usual for vaccines to require boosters. Vaccines for flu, tetanus, meningococcal and pertussis, also known as whooping cough, are among those requiring boosters to help them maintain their effectiveness over time, she said.

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