CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg hinted at a news conference Monday afternoon that the city could ease its mask ordinance and social distancing rules as early as next week.
But that, he said, depends on more people being vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We’re getting close, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said at a Monday afternoon news conference. “And it’s not just about the economy, y’all, it’s about life, it’s about our public health, about our human health.”
Tecklenburg said Charleston City Council will meet on May 11, and that many of the city’s ordinances related to COVID-19 expire on May 12.
“And I do foresee that we’ll have further modification and lessening,” he said. “We’re certainly going to continue to recommend mask wearing for those that have not been vaccinated, and also to follow CDC guidelines. Frankly, I would predict to become more on a recommended basis rather than a required basis.”
Tecklenburg said that as of Monday, the city will surpass 40,000 vaccinations through the city and its community partners. But he said a return to normalcy means getting as many people in the community vaccinated as possible.
Several health leaders from MUSC joined the mayor in urging people who have not yet taken one of the three available COVID-19 vaccines to do so as soon as possible.
MUSC Division of Infectious Disease representative Dr. Ruth Adekunle said getting 80% of the population vaccinated against COVID-19 would allow a good level of herd immunity.
“Although 80% would be nice, I am along the ‘cup half full’ and . I am along the cup hopeful and optimistic that the closer we can get to 100% the better,” she said.
Adekunle estimated that the percentage of people in Charleston who have received at least one dose of the vaccine stands at about 24%. When you add to that the number of people who may have already had COVID-19 but have not yet been vaccinated, that could increase the percentage to between 30 and 40 percent.
“So we still have a lot of room to go,” she said. “We still have a lot more vaccines that need to be administered in two arms.”
MUSC President Dr. David Cole offered a slightly more optimistic estimate, saying about 50% of people have received at least one dose of the vaccine and that those within three months of having a COVID-19 infection could push toward the 60 to 65% range.
But people who have had COVID-19 have neither “perfect” nor “permanent” immunity, he said.
“If you’re not vaccinated, you are the high risk group,” Cole said.
MUSC Public Health Sciences Chairman Dr. Hermes Florez said he is concerned about people getting only the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and then being hesitant to get the second out of a fear whether they will get side effects.
“Yeah, you may have side effects that you may have gotten when you get the flu shot, very mild,” he said. “You can get medication over the counter to control those symptoms.”
But Florez warned that for people who do not get the vaccine, their risk of infection may be three times higher.