COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – South Carolina’s lead health agency offered a stern warning on Thursday about New Year’s Eve gatherings as cases of COVID-19 surge across the state.

It comes as the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported nearly 6,000 new virus cases on Thursday and expect a higher number Friday.

“While we cannot confirm a number just yet, early data is showing we will eclipse that mark in tomorrow’s report and we’ll likely see these soaring numbers in the days and weeks following New Year’s Day,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director, encouraging people to find a safe way to ring in the new year.

State health leaders say they understand people have already set their celebration plans for New Year’s Eve but encourage everyone to reconsider them and find a safe alternative to joining large crowds or groups.

“Meeting for virtual toasts, playing music over a video message, and a neighborhood countdown where everyone stands at their front door or porch, are a few ways to safely ring in the new year,” Dr. Traxler said. “We know this isn’t ideal, but neither are the times we’re living in. The unfortunate truth is that sacrifices will be made one way or another.”

She went on to say, “we know this isn’t ideal; but neither are the times we’re living in. The unfortunate truth is that sacrifices will be made one way or another.

“We are at a crucial moment in this pandemic. We don’t want to start 2022 with record numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, and we are headed in that direction.”

Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director

The agency said it understands people may be numb to the daily numbers, but they said the recent stats are not just numbers.

“They represent people. People who are our family members, friends and loved ones who are sick, hospitalized and dying from this disease … sacrifices will either be made willingly by finding alternative ways to celebrate, as well as getting a safe and free vaccination and masking up; or we’ll be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice by watching more of us suffer from severe cases of COVID-19.”

DHEC leaders, though, say the community has the power to reverse course. “It starts with staying safe today and through the weekend,” they said.

“We know the Omicron variant is spreading all throughout our state. But we also know a full vaccination series, which DHEC now considers an initial vaccination and ideally a booster shot for ages 16 and up, will stave off severe cases of COVID and all its variants. We urge our residents to not waste time. Protect yourselves and your families against this deadly virus.”