DHEC: More genetic sequencing needed to detect Delta variant of COVID-19 in South Carolina

State - Regional


MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – Only four cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 have been recorded so far in South Carolina, but state officials say there are likely cases that have gone unreported because the genetic testing needed to identify the variant is only being performed on a small number of people who test positive for COVID-19.

Another part of the problem, according to Dr. Jonathan W. Knoche, a public health medical consultant representing the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, is the number of labs where testing is done. These include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DHEC and numerous other private laboratories.

“It’s hard to get a handle on sequencing done by all these various parties,” he said during DHEC’s weekly COVID-19 media briefing on Wednesday.

According to DHEC’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been two confirmed Delta variant cases in the Midlands and one each in the Lowcountry and Pee regions. It’s the fewest number of cases among the six most common variants being monitored by both the CDC and DHEC. In the U.S., Knoche said the Delta variant currently makes up about 20% of all new COVID-19 cases, a number that has doubled over a two-week span.

Regardless, Knoche said getting vaccinated is critical to preventing a resurgence of the virus. Early studies have shown that the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been about 60% percent effective in preventing variant cases, he said. It’s about 88% for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines after both doses, he said.

Knoche also said evidence suggests that immunity through vaccination offers more protection from variants than what is present after actually having the disease.

“At the end of the day, the message is still the same,” he said. “And that’s that we all need to get fully vaccinated. It’s a little bit of a race. It us versus the virus, and the virus doesn’t care.”

The most recent vaccination statistics available from DHEC show 40.6% percent of South Carolina residents have been fully vaccinated, while 47% have received at least a first dose.

In recent weeks, DHEC has pushed to get more children 12 or older to get vaccinated, partly because the vaccines help protect children against MIS-C, a condition sometimes linked to COVID-19 that can cause swelling of the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, brain eyes, stomach, intestines and skin, he said. There have been 117 MIS-C cases and two deaths in South Carolina, he said.

In addition, Knoche said those in that age group who are vaccinated are more likely to be able to stay in school and less likely to have to quarantine. There’s also a smaller risk of spreading the virus to other family members, he said.

“COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and that’s how we are going to end the pandemic once and for all,” he said.

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