MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — More than two-thirds of the population in Horry and Georgetown counties are estimated to have immunity against the virus, according to new data from MUSC.
Local doctors call the new research on our region’s COVID-19 immunity ‘exciting.’
“That’s an exciting, positive sign,” Vice President of Medical Affairs at Tidelands Health Dr. Gerald Harmon said. “I think I need to get to 80-90% but the fact that we’re in the top five of the state is really incredibly, heartwarming for us as doctors.”
69% of Horry County’s population is estimated to have immunity and 74% of Georgetown County is, according to the research. That puts Georgetown County in the top three statewide, and Horry County fifth in the state.
Dr. Harmon said a reason why the two counties rank so high could be their high population of older adults.
“They were literally searching for vaccination sites so they were highly motivated to get the vaccine,” Dr. Harmon said. “The other thing is unfortunately because we have had a higher population we also had a pretty intense outbreak.”
The data includes people who have natural immunity through prior infection and immunity through vaccination.
“Historically when you have an immunity of 50% in most populations we consider that to be approaching herd immunity,” Dr. Harmon said. “The term herd immunity is probably not as applicable as the level risk of getting the disease in the population.”
Despite the progress, Dr. Harmon said we’re not in the clear just yet. He says precautions are still important and there are many unvaccinated people that can still spread the virus easily.
As immunity rates go up, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has noticed an impact on the region’s economy.
“Local residents are feeling comfortable and feeling safe to be able to go out, which means that they’re going out to eat,” President and CEO of Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Karen Riordan said. “They’re shopping. They’re going to stores. They’re going back out for entertainment.”
Riordan said vaccination rates have impacted the number of tourists visiting the Grand Strand, too.
“We do believe that has been a key reason why we’ve seen unusually strong numbers for both the months of March and April to date,” Riordan said. “We are looking at the latest forward-looking data today that came out on our lodging dashboard and it’s showing occupancy and our average daily rate for lodging projected for the month of May is very strong.”
Riordan hopes more people feel comfortable to pick up jobs again amid the worker shortage.
Dr. Harmon compared the current pandemic situation to passing a car on a highway.
“I want coronavirus in my rear view mirror,” he said. “Right now we’ve finally got to where it’s getting alongside… We’ve done a good job but I won’t let my foot off the gas. I want to make sure I’m still going to pass it and get ahead of it.”
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