DHEC and Prisma Health encouraging the Midlands to stay vigilant amid rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations

Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 8:03 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2022 at 12:39 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations trending upwards statewide in the last several months, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is encouraging the community to remain vigilant as the current strain of the virus is highly transmissible.

According to the latest data from DHEC released Tuesday, COVID-19 cases are up more than 15 percent in the last month.

The last time this many people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state was more than four months ago. Since that time, hospitalizations did fall significantly, but have been steadily going back up since May.

In the last month, hospitalizations are up 43.7 percent.

DHEC Medical Consultant Dr. Jonathan Knoche said this is discouraging, and he believes that many of the hospitalizations could be prevented if more people got vaccinated.

“It’s hard to follow a story for two years and know that you get fatigued from hearing about COVID-19,” he said. “But it’s not gone, it’s still here and numbers are on the rise, so it still is something that people need to be mindful of.”

Knoche said that case numbers are likely even higher because at-home tests are not reported to DHEC.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the way that we’ve counted cases has changed a little bit,” he said. “Early in the pandemic, we were having every single test done at a laboratory or in a physician’s office, and those were getting sent to the health departments so we could track those numbers. Now with at-home tests, that changes things. So, we don’t know those test numbers.”

When asked if these numbers could be a sign that a similar spike to the fall of last year could be on the horizon, Knoche said it’s impossible to predict, but he wouldn’t be surprised if cases and hospitalizations continued to rise in the coming months.

This comes as pediatric cases are also on the rise, according to the Medical Director of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital in the Upstate, Dr. Robin Lacroix.

Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a Columbia-based pediatrician, said she saw a record number of children with COVID-19 at her office on Monday.

“So much that we still don’t know about the long-term effects of this virus in kids,” she tweeted. “This terrifies me.”

Lacroix said this is not surprising, given how contagious the current strain is.

“What we’re seeing is that children are returning to activities that are important for them to be a part of their sports teams are starting up, swim teams are starting up, kids are in more congregate settings,” she said. “It does appear that this is a very efficient virus at transmitting itself person to person.”

Data from DHEC shows that less than five percent of children under five years old have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 22 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have gotten their first shot.

DHEC says the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron is the dominant strain of COVID that the health agency is seeing at this time.

Health officials say that this variant has the potential to evade the immunity produced by the vaccine and prior infection.

As more people are now getting reinfected, a recent study seemed to suggest that people are more likely to get complications of long COVID with reinfections.

With the effects of long COVID still unknown, doctors say this should be a wake-up call to get young children vaccinated now if they are not already.

“Whether it’s BA.5 or any of the other subvariants, the risk of potential long COVD I think remains, and what that means for children if they get COVID and they haven’t been vaccinated for the rest of their lives, we don’t know,” Knoche said. “It’s too early to tell. We’ll find it over time. And so, I think that’s, again, why we continue to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated. It’s safer than getting the disease and potentially the long-term consequences of having COVID, long COVID, Multisystem inflammatory syndrome.”

According to the CDC, the majority of the state’s 46 counties, and much of the Midlands, are living in areas of high community spread.

The CDC recommends that these areas use masks while in crowded indoor spaces.

Lacroix is echoing that sentiment as the state heads into this next phase.

“It’s much like wearing sunscreen,” she said. “We always think about putting on sunscreen in the summer when the sun is hot. And so, wearing a well-fitted mask during this time of higher transmission and more contagion just makes sense.”

An updated booster targeted toward BA.5 is expected sometime this fall.

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