SC epidemiologist ‘very concerned’ about rise in COVID after holidays

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 5:17 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2021 at 6:39 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s state epidemiologist urged people to get tested for COVID by Saturday to make sure they know their status before any Thanksgiving holiday gatherings.

Dr. Linda Bell said Wednesday during the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s weekly COVID briefing that she is “very concerned” about the possibility of an increase in cases. Over the past year and a half of the pandemic, increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths have followed the major holidays, she said.

“By far during the holiday season and always the most effective thing that you can do is to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Bell said.

She said many family gatherings are multi-generational and will include children who are still too young to be vaccinated and older people who are at increased risk of complications from COVID should they be exposed.

“Disease transmission within households is where we see the greatest number of clusters of COVID cases,” Bell said. “That is, household transmission poses the greatest risk And as we move into the holidays, we have to pay attention to that.”

DHEC urges testing before gathering with family

Bell urged people to be tested for COVID by Saturday to ensure they receive results in time for holiday travel.

While testing facilities can typically provide results within 48 hours, Bell said an anticipated increase in testing, that turnaround time could jump to four days.

She said the DHEC has received many questions about at-home COVID tests. Those tests, which are antigen tests, also known as rapid tests, allow you to collect your own sample and give you results with 15 to 20 minutes.

“These at-home tests are helpful if you get a positive test result. We consider that an accurate test result,” Bell said. “But someone who gets a positive result from an at home test should immediately contact their health care provider for further care and instructions.”

But, she said, the at-home results are less sensitive than PCR swab tests and can miss about 20% of positive cases. So anyone who is experiencing symptoms but gets a negative result in a rapid test should still schedule a PCR swab test as soon as possible to be certain of their results.

Bell: Don’t let family divisions get in the way of good judgment

Bell responded to a question about families who are experiencing divisions because of different ideas about COVID-19, its threat and vaccines.

She acknowledged navigating those conversations can be “a real challenge” but insisted that following guidelines designed to stop the spread of the disease could “really change the course of someone’s life.”

“So don’t let certain divisions within family members get in the way of losing the opportunity to make sure that your family members can be protected,” she said. “You could, in fact, save once someone’s life. You can make sure that those family members will be present for the next holiday gatherings. If you follow the recommended measures. Be cautious about your gatherings with people who you know may not be being tested may not be vaccinated, so they must follow the recommendations to protect themselves if they’re not vaccinated and to protect you as well.

Bell said people should not attend holiday gatherings if they had any symptoms of COVID-19 or tested positive within the 10 days before the event, or have been exposed to a confirmed case and have been instructed to quarantine.

Those who are not fully vaccinated should wear a well-fitted mask over their nose and mouth when inside a public indoor setting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists South Carolina as having a “substantial” statewide transmission rate, indicating a higher level of transmission of cases, she said.

“We know that outdoors is safer than indoors, so when possible, you can host or attend outdoor gatherings instead of inside if it’s possible to make those arrangements,” Bell said. “We recommend that everybody avoid crowded and poorly ventilated spaces and wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings.”

She said the CDC continues to “strongly recommend” that only fully vaccinated people travel.

“This is one of our peak travel times and we need to be careful about the measures and about the risk of exposure while traveling on commercial carriers,” she said.

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