SC’s COVID surge peaked in mid-January, health department says

Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 9:07 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2022 at 4:23 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s public health director said Wednesday the state reached its peak in COVID-19 cases during the week of Jan. 15.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Dr. Brannon Traxler said the state recorded a total of 116,889 cases for that week and has seen a steady decline over the last couple of weeks since then.

She said the new cases dropped to a total of 63,003 for the week of Jan. 29, noting the majority of those cases are Omicron.

Traxler said she expects an increase in the speed of the decline of cases if the vaccination rate were to rise.

Vaccination for young children would be ‘last piece of puzzle’

Traxler, when asked about Pfizer’s pursuit of an Emergency Use Authorization for its version of a vaccine designed for children as young as 6 months old, called any such approval the “last piece of the vaccination puzzle.”

“That is the population that still has not been eligible. We talk a lot about how everyone can get vaccinated if they want to but the reality is there are those youngest children who have not had that ability so far,” she said.

She said if the vaccine is approved for young children and all vaccination rates begin to rise, we would also see “corresponding decreases in cases.”

Traxler praises ‘test to stay’ program as ‘huge step’ to normalcy

She also referenced the state’s “Test to Stay” program, which involves the use of rapid tests sent to school districts statewide as an important tool in the state’s fight against COVID-19 in the classroom.

The agency said Monday it is “strongly encouraging” schools to utilize the protocol, which it says will allow more students to remain in the classroom.

“That is a huge step towards getting back to our normal reality,” she said.

Under the guidelines, students who have been exposed to COVID-19 can remain in school, provided they are asymptomatic and test negative between days five through seven.

Traxler said while research shows a person who is infected with the Omicron is most infectious within the first five days, the program is part of a larger “layered strategy” to stop the spread, including monitoring for symptoms and staying home if you have symptoms.

She said the test to stay program was piloted in two districts in Illinois and California by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last semester.

“Test to stay allows the rapid antigen tests or PCR tests that have a quick 24-hours-or-less turnaround time to be performed on unvaccinated students who have been exposed to a COVID-19 infected person but don’t have symptoms in the hope that more of them can remain in the classroom rather than immediately moving (them to quarantine),” Traxler said. “Test to stay allows the students to stay in the classroom if they test negative on a test done between days five and seven. They wear a mask for 10 days after their exposure and are not experiencing any symptoms.”

Traxler said she hopes the number of students in isolation because of positive COVID-19 tests will drop significantly as the Omicron cases continue to fall and as “test to stay” protocols gain more use.

She said while it’s important to keep kids in an “in-person learning environment,” it’s equally important that they be in safe in that environment with “as little risk of infection as possible.”

MUSC said on Monday its data showed the Tri-County area reached its peak in Omicron cases on Jan. 15, but reported it was still seeing an increase in hospitalizations.

DHEC’s COVID-19 briefings typically take place Wednesdays at 2 p.m. The agency did not specify a reason for the time change this week.

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