COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) – South Carolina health officials are continuing to rely on CDC guidance as new cases of COVID-19, fueled largely by the Delta variant of the virus, increase across the state and nation.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported more than 1,100 new cases on Tuesday. That is the highest daily case count since mid-February, Dr. Linda Bell, a state’s epidemiologist, said Wednesday afternoon in a DHEC media briefing. Currently, 41 of the state’s 46 counties, including Horry, have returned to the high-incidence category.
Citing a growing number of new cases among unvaccinated people, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week recommended that all people in parts of the country where the virus is surging should return to wearing a mask indoors and in public settings, regardless of their vaccination status. This includes all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools.
“From a public health perspective, this is a disheartening setback,” Bell said. “And we recognize that those who made the decision to get vaccinated may feel the same way.”
According to Bell, recent state statistics show that more than 90% of cases and deaths in South Carolina, and 86% of hospitalizations, are among those who were not fully vaccinated.
“That tells us that the vaccines are highly effective,” she said. “So, no vaccine offers 100% protection against infection. Breakthrough cases are always expected. But we need the public to understand that the COVID vaccinations are very effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalizations. The vaccines save lives and can end this pandemic.”
The change in mask guidance by the CDC comes as DHEC is finalizing its guidance for K-12 students returning to the classroom in the fall. That plan is expected to be announced this week, Bell said.
State law currently prohibits schools from requiring masks, but Bell said there are other protective measures schools can take, including offering masks to anyone who wants one. She also said DHEC is working with schools to set up vaccination clinics for children 12 or older who are eligible to get vaccinated, and because it can take up to six weeks to be fully protected, Bell said it’s important for parents, teachers, staff members, and eligible students to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“We want children to be in full-time face-to-face learning to realize all the enrichment that the schools have to offer,” she said. “And following that guidance will do that.”
During Wednesday’s media briefing, Bell also addressed the issue of apathy among people who have not been vaccinated, many of whom are openly frustrated by the seemingly constantly changing CDC guidelines. She said health officials understand the public’s frustrations.
“My hope people is that people will be more frustrated by the disease activity in our community than they will be by the guidance that is changing as necessary because disease activity is surging now at alarming levels,” she said. “We certainly understand the frustration. We want to make sure that our guidance is clear and consistent, easily understand, and easy to adopt. And we want people to understand the reason that we’re changing this is because we want people to be well-protected.”