DHEC: gatherings not Omicron causing slight uptick in SC COVID cases

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Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 10:27 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Omicron variant has not been detected in South Carolina yet, but public health officials say it’s only a matter of time.

According to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, new COVID-19 cases, along with the percent positive rate in the state have been going up over the last 30 days.

However, Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly says it’s gatherings, not a new variant leading to the increase.

“It’s the combination of holiday behavior, human behavior, and I think people underestimate that,” Kelly said.

Kelly warned Omicron and the recent record-breaking travel numbers will lead to a significant acceleration of new cases.

“If we look to the UK’s experience, Omicron has first detected in the last week of November, yet now it is 40 percent of new cases, so we are concerned that there will be a more substantial uptick because of behavior and because Omicron spreads more easily, but that does not make us helpless. I think it’s important people realize we are not in the same position we were last year. There are things you can do to reduce the impact of Omicron,” she said.

Kelly says those who are vaccinated, in particular those who have had a booster, have a strong protection against getting severely ill from Omicron.

Some parents of children who are five and younger are worried that people are letting their guards down when they still can’t fully protect their kids.

“We are not living scared, but it does when you start hearing about different variants and cases on the rise you start thinking a little more and knowing we have two children at home who can’t get the vaccine yet we do subconsciously or more directly start taking more precautions,” said father of two four-year-olds Brian Glynn.

Last holiday season, Glynn lost his father to COVID-19 so he wants to do whatever he can to protect his family.

“We know how real this pandemic is and what the cost can be,” he said.

According to DHEC and the head of the CDC, despite multiple mutations, Omicron has not been shown to cause more severe illness compared to the Delta variant.

To detect the Omicron variant, DHEC sequences the genome of all positive PCR cases from their Public Health Lab within a specific viral load range. DHEC says that comes out to about 140 samples tested a week.

In addition other labs from across the state, sequence less than 500 positive tests a week.

“The spike protein has a little bit more than 12-hundred amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of a spike protein. So there are over 12-hundred of them and we’ve had changes to about 30 of them. So that definitely changes the shape of a protein molecule and it can hide some places where antibodies can stick, but there are a great many other places where antibodies can stick,” Kelly said.

Kelly says the key to a safe holiday season is surrounding yourself with people who are fully vaccinated and boosted. She says also to ask guests to get tested before attending gatherings.

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