SC health dept. doctor warns of ‘perfect storm’ for COVID-19 infection in children
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A physician with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said the state is seeing its highest number of new cases in people under 20 years old.
Dr. Jonathan Knoche said 11 to 20-year-olds accounted for the highest number of new cases but said the highest percentage increase in new cases was among the 0 to 10 age group.
“One of the biggest concerns about these numbers is that many of these cases are among those who are too young to get vaccinated,” he said. “So they’re relying on my parents, older siblings the rest of the eligible population in their community, to protect them through vaccination masking and other safety protocols.”
Knoche attributed the rise in cases among younger people, in part, to children being together in groups at school.
“What we’re seeing, I think, across the state right now is in a setting with a highly-transmissible Delta variant strain of COVID-19, where children are now congregating in school settings, with some people wearing masks but I would say there’s probably a large proportion who aren’t wearing masks. It’s kind of a perfect storm for higher numbers of COVID cases in children,” Knoche said.
He cited a study from researchers in North Carolina and Georgia stating that consistently wearing face masks could avert up to 50% of the cases that might occur otherwise among children in school. But he said it is difficult to pinpoint why the state has such a high infection rate compared with other states.
In explaining a recent update in guidance for schools, he said DHEC’s latest recommendations that students maintain a distance between three and six feet to avoid being considered a “close contact” more closely aligned with what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended.
He said there is no good evidence that the Delta variant causes more severe disease in any one age group, including children.
“The concern is because it’s so much more transmissible, it replicates in the population and spreads in the population much more rapidly,” he said. “So by sheer number, by sheer volume, we have more pediatric cases.”
He noted the majority of children recover from COVID-19 infection but also said there have been 15 deaths in the pediatric population so far from COVID-19 whereas, in the past year, none died from the flu.
Doctor addresses questions about ivermectin
Knoche responded to questions about the drug ivermectin, which is used largely as an anti-parasitic treatment in livestock and for select applications in humans. Some have claimed it could be a possible preventative for COVID-19.
“Ivermectin is not authorized or approved by FDA for prevention or treatment of COVID-19,” he said.
He also said the National Institute of Health has not found sufficient data to recommend the drug as a treatment of COVID-19.
“While research is underway, taking a drug for an unapproved use can be dangerous,” he said. “Right now ivermectin is approved for use in humans at very specific doses mainly for some parasitic worm infections, but it’s not for treating COVID-19 and ingesting large doses of this drug as has occurred with people taking highly concentrated animal ivermectin medications can be dangerous and cause serious harm. The safest and most effective way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Unvaccinated people still make up majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths
He also said that the latest analysis from DHEC showed that from July 16 to Aug. 15, 86% of new cases, 72% of hospitalizations and 78% of deaths were among those who had not yet been vaccinated.
He called that study “further proof” that vaccinations are working and that increasing the state’s vaccination rate with “further assist in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”
“So many of these cases can be prevented through vaccinations and masking,” Knoche said. But he said additional factors would also help prevent the spread, like maintaining physical distance, washing hands frequently and self-isolating if you don’t feel well.
Knoche said DHEC is looking at data to determine the percentage of people who have had COVID-19 in the past but who have been reinfected. He said the “vast majority” of reinfections are occurring in the unvaccinated, but could not provide an exact percentage, saying the agency was still looking at the data.
“We’ve said it before and we will continue to say it: We can end this pandemic if we increase our vaccination rates,” Knoche said. “To do that, we need all South Carolinians to do their part in protecting themselves and their loved ones.”
DHEC reported more than 16,000 new COVID-19 cases from data collected over the weekend. The agency reported more than 5,100 new cases on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the state had recorded more than 740,000 cases and 10,684 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said last week that vaccines are “how we end this pandemic,” and said she was hopeful the recent FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine would prompt those who have been on the fence about taking the vaccine to do so.
Traxler insisted all three of the vaccines readily available, the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccine and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine “are safe and effective.”
“As we’ve said for many months, and will continue to say, we need as many people as possible to get vaccinated because it doesn’t just protect you. It helps to protect our children under the age of 12, who can’t get the vaccine yet,” she said.
DHEC officials also pushed for the wearing of face masks by students and teachers in schools.
Two Charleston County schools were the latest to announce they would go virtual as of Wednesday as the number of COVID-19 cases or quarantines rose.
Those two schools, Charles Pinckney and Sullivan’s Island Elementary, joined Early College High School in the Charleston County School District.
In addition to those four Charleston County schools, four Georgetown County schools, Dorchester District 4 and the Colleton County School District have gone virtual as well.
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