The number of new South Carolina cases of people getting COVID-19 has dropped significantly with 122 new cases one recent day, 71 new cases the day before. Daily deaths across the state have dropped from the double digits to just a few. The percentage of positive tests is now below 5 percent, the magic number indicating the disease is being managed.
But we’re not out of the woods yet — by a long shot. One in three South Carolinians still are susceptible to the disease because children under 12 — about 800,000 people in the state — can’t yet get vaccinated, and another million adults just haven’t. The rate of infection among people under 20, for example, has gone up from 18% to 26% since January, according to state numbers.
And in the days ahead, things can get trickier. Those who aren’t protected against the ravaging impacts of COVID-19 may think everything’s back to normal because of what they see every day — people congregating, not wearing masks or taking fewer precautions than in the past.
At this point in the pandemic, they’re in a health Catch-22: They think they don’t need to be careful when, in fact, they’re still just as much at risk because they don’t have the disease antibodies from a vaccination or natural immunity from getting the virus.
“If people have been vaccinated or know they have had an infection, they’re fine with doing just about anything they want,” said Dr. Michael Sweat, director of the division of global and community health at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “But those who haven’t, they’re seriously at risk.”
Across the state, some 45% of South Carolinians over age 12 have had at one vaccination shot; 37% are completely vaccinated, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. But when the 800,000 children under 12 are added into the mix, that means some 38% of all South Carolinians have gotten one shot, while 31% are completely vaccinated.
Add on top of that the 26% who had the disease and have natural immunity. That means about two in three South Carolinians have some or complete protection from the disease. But look at how many people that leaves without protection — about 1.8 million in a state of 5.1 million people.
Even scarier: Sweat pointed to a recent MUSC study in the Charleston area that showed about 20% of people who believed they contracted COVID-19 and had natural protection actually had no antibodies. In other words, they believed they were protected, but were not. Yikes!
“The chance of those [unprotected] people spiking up without immunity is very likely to happen,” Sweat said, adding the next few weeks would be telling. In particular, health officials are concerned about higher infections among the unprotected because people congregate more in summer and the COVID-19 variants that now exist “ramp up transmission by 50 percent when encounters happen.”
In society, we’ve essentially created two classes of citizens — the protected, who are returning to normal, and the unprotected, who constantly get messages reinforced that things are back to normal, but fail to realize the virus doesn’t discriminate. For them, it is still lurking and deadly.
But these people don’t want to hear that to ward off the disease, they need to keep wearing masks, continue washing hands and keep socially distanced — just like before.
“We have about 30 percent of our people [in the Charleston area] who have no immunity based on our estimate,” Sweat said. “That’s a lot of people. The more those people congregate with each other the worse off they are.”
The easiest way for adults to not get the disease is to get vaccinated. Do so so we can keep this noxious tiger at bay for everyone.