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DHEC says COVID case trend hard to predict amid holidays

While families across the state sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, the state health officials are keeping a close eye on COVID-19 case numbers.

After 10 consecutive weeks of dwindling case numbers, South Carolina saw its first increase in new infections last week. The week ending Sept. 4 saw 39,696 new cases — the second-highest weekly total of the pandemic. Those numbers decreased to 4,446 cases the week ending Nov. 13 but rose to 5,170 the following week.

“I don’t want to hit the panic button, but we are strongly encouraging all South Carolinians to continue the safety protocols that helped us drive those numbers down from that high point back in early September,” said state Department of Health and Environmental Control Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler.

With millions planning to gather with friends and family today, she asked that people continue to wear masks, stay at a safe distance when possible and gather outdoors if they can.

Everyone age 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and DHEC has adopted the federal guidance that all adults age 18 and older who received any of the three available vaccine brands can get a booster shot. People who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine can get their booster shot six months afterward, and those who got the Janssen vaccine can get their booster two months after.

“Those who received the single-dose Janssen vaccine may want to consider receiving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine as a booster, to maximize the response due to that booster, in regards to immunity,” Traxler said.

At this same time last year, there weren’t vaccines available against COVID-19, but there also wasn’t the highly contagious delta variant. Last year saw surges in case numbers following the Thanksgiving and December holidays, but it’s not clear what this year has in store.

“It’s difficult to project really this pandemic in general, but particularly when and how cases will rise and what that curb will look like, and that data from the previous year can’t really be used to project,” Traxler said.

It will depend on vaccination levels and people’s preventative practices, she said. Increased masking and vaccinations could prevent a significant spike in cases, but without it it’s likely cases will curve upward. It will take more than a week to see the effects of gatherings on case numbers, she said.

“In general, any time you have large amounts of unvaccinated and-or unmasked folks gathering together, especially indoors which occurs during colder weather, COVID-19 can and will spread more rapidly,” she said. “We’re still early on in the holiday season here and in the winter, and we still have a couple months to go to get through that.”

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the Lakelands and the country respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has led to state and national emergency declarations, it is vital for everyone to have up-to-date information about the virus and its spread. As such, we're providing free access to all of our COVID-19 coverage, which is available on this page.

Here's the latest information on COVID-19 from health agencies and hospitals: