Days into the third calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Carolina passed a sobering milestone: 1 million cases.
“This current surge across the nation is being fueled by the delta and omicron variants,” said S.C. State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell. “The age group driving this current surge is young people between the ages of 20 and 40. It is that age group that is comprising the highest number of new cases and is contributing to spread of the disease in our communities.”
Young people have proven less likely to practice safety measures such as wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth. Bell said health officials are seeing the effects of increased travel and socialization during the holidays, but students are returning to school now.
“We’re anticipating we may see a shift in this age group,” she said. “With students returning to school this week, I’m concerned we may see a spike in the number of pediatric cases.”
Only about 8% of children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated, and vaccines are available for everyone age 5 and older. To find a vaccination site near you, visit vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov or call 866-365-8110. Full vaccination means two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines plus a booster shot, or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a booster shot.
Booster doses are incredibly important against the Delta and Omicron variants, Bell said, which are highly transmissible. With little more than a month so far to study Omicron, she said researchers are still learning a lot about its incubation period and the duration of illness after infection. She said she expects to see more cases of it in the coming weeks.
“We are witnessing the virus raging through populations,” she said. “Now we’re seeing over 25% of the test results submitted to DHEC are positive.”
Though Omicron typically is a milder infection, it’s more infectious, so more must be done to reduce the spread, she said. While Gov. Henry McMaster has said there’s no need to shut down schools or businesses in this latest and most severe surge, Bell said the recommendations for the public remain the same as at the pandemic’s start — wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing and avoid public gatherings.
“In the early part of the pandemic when we made our recommendations, our goal then was, we were anticipating that we had an opportunity to prevent these surges,” Bell said. “Some of the early opportunities we missed while people were sort of questioning the threat. I think now we’re moving into a stage where we have seen the threat, we have seen multiple surges.
“What I’m hoping now is that people will look at missed opportunities and look at what we’re confronted with now, and see what we can do at this particular time in history to change our course.”
Hospitalizations are rising along with the surge in cases, and there are more people seeking COVID tests at the about 300 testing sites open daily throughout the state. To find a COVID-19 testing location, visit scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-testing-locations.
“We acknowledge that testing wait times and result turnaround times are increasing due to just the enormous number of people who are showing signs of illness or just being exposed,” Bell said.
While DHEC officials work with testing partners to reduce wait times, she said results are typically available within 48-72 hours. If results aren’t provided within 72 hours, she said to call DHEC’s testing center at 888-697-9044 or email email@example.com.