SC health official: COVID-19 numbers ‘sobering, unprecedented’

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 1:30 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 11:55 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s public health director said the state’s low vaccination rate is contributing to alarming data on new COVID-19 cases over the past week.

“Last time for the first time in two years of the pandemic, we saw 100,000 cases and more than 20,000 in a single day,” Dr. Brannon Traxler said.

She said those numbers are on par with what the rest of the country is experiencing.

Traxler said there was hope we were turning a corner as a state and nation in the fight against the disease, particularly because safe and effective vaccines became available.

“Unfortunately, not enough people have received their vaccines since they’ve become widely available shortly after this time last year,” she said Wednesday at DHEC’s weekly COVID-19 briefing. “A little more than half of our state’s eligible population, 52%, are fully vaccinated.”

She said while some data are beginning to show the omicron variant may be peaking, it continues to be “paramount” that everyone who is eligible get vaccinated and boosted.

She said COVID-19 has been allowed to “run rampant and mutate” the state is still far from reaching the goal of “herd immunity.”

“Ideally, we need more than 75 ot 80% of the population being fully vaccinated” to reach that point, she said.

Traxler said the recent surge in testing because of the omicron variant is not only causing stress on schools but also testing sites and staff. The majority of those tests are processed at non-DHEC laboratories and those sites are falling behind because of staffing shortages. She called that “unacceptable” and said the agency was taking the necessary steps to hold those sites accountable.

“We have to focus right now on where we are in South Carolina at this moment and the things that we need to do now so that the plateau and downturn for South Carolina will come as quickly as possible,” she said.

She said DHEC is seeing weekly increases in cases being reported and also the number of hospitalizations.

The government has issued four free at-home rapid antigen tests per household. These tests don’t need to be sent back to a lab. DHEC says this should help with the overwhelming stress testing sites are seeing.

Earlier in the day, the agency reported 10,744 new COVID-19 cases and an increased positivity rate of 33.4%, up from Tuesday’s 32.7%. DHEC reports COVID-19 data on a 48-hour delay, so those numbers reflect test results from Monday.

The agency set a record in single-day new COVID-19 cases over the weekend with Sunday’s report (which examined data collected last Friday), with 20,337 cases.

DHEC did not report data on Monday because of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, instead reporting four days’ worth of data on Tuesday. The four days of data took the state’s death toll over 15,000.

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