DHEC leader on COVID surge: ‘I don’t feel that we can be confident that we have turned the corner’

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 8:42 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said it is too soon to know how much longer South Carolina’s current COVID spike will last or if it may be ending.

During previous surges in the pandemic, cases have risen first, followed by hospitalizations and then deaths, and then they have declined in that order.

DHEC data over the last month shows the number of cases in South Carolina per 100,000 people is falling, and hospitalizations are starting to level off, though they remain high, with thousands of COVID patients still occupying beds.

Deaths, meanwhile, are on the rise.

“Unfortunately, I don’t feel that we can be confident that we have turned the corner,” DHEC Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said. “I think that we still have a lot of challenges with our hospitals being filled with severely ill individuals, coming close to capacity in many cases.”

Kelly said while she is hopeful the trend indicates a downturn in the current spike, she is nervous about people becoming complacent and not adhering to proven mitigation measures, which she said partially caused this surge.

“We let down our guard about masks, about the importance of getting vaccinated, about the importance of keeping our distance, especially in indoor settings, then we risk that surge going back up again,” she said.

As opposed to previous surges, a substantial portion of South Carolinians are vaccinated at this point, with just over 50% of those eligible considered fully vaccinated.

But Kelly said it is unclear if that could be an indicator that any potential future surges would be less severe, with more than 40% of eligible South Carolinians still have not received a single dose of the vaccine.

That increases the chances the virus will still circulate and mutate into new variants, according to Kelly.

“We’re by no means certain that there will not be a surge in this fall and winter, as more people are indoors, as more people might travel and gather around the holidays,” she said. “If another variant emerges, that might be another cause for a surge.”

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