CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Saturday marks a grim milestone in the state’s fight against the novel coronavirus: it is the first anniversary of the first reported confirmed cases in the state.
The first two cases, reported on March 6, 2020, involved an employee at MUSC in Charleston and a resident of a nursing home in Kershaw County.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said those two cases, announced on the same day, were not linked.
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DHEC said one patient was a woman in her 80s from Kershaw County. State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said the patient began exhibiting symptoms on Feb. 27 and was treated for an unknown illness. She was hospitalized and in isolation at that point and was eventually transferred to a health care facility in the Midlands to receive a higher level of care.
The second patient was a woman in her 30s from Charleston County who had recently traveled to France and Italy. The patient, whom MUSC identified as one of its employees, first exhibited symptoms on Feb. 28 after she returned to Charleston. She did not require hospitalization or medical treatment self-isolated at home after her COVID-19 test.
In a statement released from DHEC, State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said the agency did not recommend any “additional precautions” to avoid COVID-19, “beyond the simple daily precautions that everyone should always take steps to stop the spread of illness, including getting the flu vaccine, washing your hands, covering your cough, and appropriately disposing tissues and other items contaminated with respiratory droplets.”
Within days, state health officials confirmed there was evidence of “community spread” after multiple cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Kershaw County where one of the first two cases had been reported. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website states.
DHEC began providing daily updates on new confirmed and probable cases.
DHEC announced the state’s first confirmed COVID-19-related death on March 16. The victim, DHEC said, was an elderly patient from a Lexington extended care facility.
In January, the state reported its first death from Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children in a 17-year-old patient from the Upstate. MIS-C is a rare health condition that occurs in some children and teenagers who have contracted COVID-19 or been in contact with someone infected with the virus.
As of this week, the total number of people to have been confirmed to test positive for COVID-19 stands at more than 447,000. The state’s death toll surpassed 7,600.
More than 6 million COVID-19 tests have been administered since the pandemic began, DHEC says.
The first approved vaccine against COVID-19 was approved in December. South Carolina received its first doses of the the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 14. A second approved vaccine, from Moderna, was announced within days.
DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer announced this week that the state expected to receive its first doses of the third approved COVID-19 vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals division either Friday or Saturday.
Earlier this week, DHEC said more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given out so far.
Phase 1A of the state’s vaccine plan opened in December and initially included frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility staff members and residents as well as anyone 70 years old or older and anyone 65 or older who was hospitalized and deemed at greater risk.
Phase 1A was expanded to include anyone 65 years old or older.
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As of Monday, the state’s Phase 1B will begin. Phase 1B will include law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers, among others; and was also expanded to include anyone 55 or older, anyone 16 and older who have certain medical conditions.
Gov. Henry McMaster said that opening up Phase 1B means the state would be able to vaccinate more than half of its total residents.
“Our state’s vaccine plan prioritizes those with greatest risk, while ensuring equal access to the vaccine for every South Carolinian aged 16 and over,” Simmer said during a news conference Tuesday.
Anyone who falls into Phase 1B can begin making appointments to receive the vaccine on Monday.
Officials have asked people who do not fall into Phase 1B to not jump ahead in line of people who do, but said they would rely on the “honor system” to allow people who state that they suffer from a qualified medical condition to be vaccinated.
DHEC said revised estimates of expected vaccine dose delivery dates lead them to believe Phase 1C, which will include people 45 and older and essential workers on or about April 12.
Phase 2, the final phase of the state’s rollout plan, which will include all South Carolinians 16 or older who have not qualified in an earlier phase, would then be expected to open on or about May 3, DHEC said.