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Charleston mayor: ‘This is now an optional pandemic’

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 12:23 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 30, 2021 at 5:15 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg presented what he called “a critical message” about vaccinations with MUSC officials Thursday.

Speaking from MUSC’s COVID-19 Command Center at Citadel Mall, Tecklenburg said South Carolina saw a 100% increase in new COVID-19 cases in the past week.

“So what we have now is rather than a mandatory pandemic, we have an optional pandemic,” he said. “And you can make a decision as to whether this pandemic is going to get super strong or not.”

The Delta variant, a strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 that was first discovered in India, is said to be more transmissible and can lead to more serious illness in those who are infected with it.

Concerns about the spread of the Delta variant prompted health authorities to advise that even fully vaccinated people should wear masks inside public places.

“We have the option of ending this pandemic in our area. All we have to do is get vaccinated,” Tecklenburg said.

MUSC Health CEO Dr. Patrick Cawley listed a couple of points he said members of the MUSC medical community said they want the public to understand about the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Number one, the vaccines are safe and effective,” he said. “Number two, vaccine side effects are almost always minimal, and they’re usually very, very minor. Severe side effects from vaccines are very rare.”

Cawley said most patients should be more concerned about the long-term effects of COVID-19 versus any rare potential side vaccine side effects. He said the vaccines, though they were created quickly, have been built on well-known technologies.

“These vaccines came out very fast, it is true,” he said. “But they came out fast because of the elimination of red tape and bureaucracy.”

He also stressed that someone cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. He said the vaccines may not completely eliminate the chance of getting COVID-19.

“But it does almost completely eliminate the chance of having a severe COVID-19 infection,” he said. “So if you’re going to get COVID-19 and you’ve been vaccinated, it is going to be mild.”

South Carolina trails much of the country with just 44.4 percent of eligible residents fully vaccinated. While encouraging the unvaccinated population to get a shot, Tecklenburg says he is not ready to reinstitute masking rules or require city employees to get vaccinated.

“We are going to watch the numbers and listen to folks like Dr. Cawley and if folks don’t get vaccinated and our numbers continue to rise, I mean we are going to have to look at alternatives,” Tecklenburg said. “So we can’t rule it out.”

“Our team is taking care of patients and families every single day that in retrospect wish they had taken the vaccine,” Cawley said. “These patients are now dealing with prolonged illnesses and hospitalizations and long, long recovery periods.”

Cowley says the explosion of cases is caused by two things: people not get vaccinated and the highly contagious Delta variant.

“Almost all cases that we are seeing of people with COVID-19 infections, it’s almost all Delta Variant at this point,” Cawley said. “We are testing genetic variants and we’re seeing almost 100 percent delta at this point.”

Official data from DHEC shows just 13 of the Lowcountry’s 382 variant cases are the Delta variant. However doctors says that number only reflects the number of cases DHEC has tested and confirmed for themselves.

Cawley expects that number to rise quickly in the coming weeks.

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