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SC Health Experts Warn of 'Alarming' Rise in COVID-19 Cases

Health care providers administer the COVID-19 vaccine at a site operated by PRISMA Health in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Meg Kinnard/AP
Health care providers administer the COVID-19 vaccine at a site operated by PRISMA Health in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Public health experts warned Wednesday of another surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths across South Carolina as more than half of state residents remain unvaccinated.

Health officials reported 204 confirmed cases Wednesday, far lower than the thousands of cases recorded daily during the pandemic's January peak. But cases have been rising steadily in the last three weeks, with a 58% increase last week, state officials said.

As of Wednesday, the state also had 205 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to 147 hospitalizations on June 23 — a 39.4% increase over three weeks.

“This is alarming,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, director of public health at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. “Our current situation is tipping in the wrong direction.”

Health experts have urged South Carolinians to get inoculated in light of the rising cases, attributing the uptick in disease spread to close contact among the unvaccinated. Recent analysis by the state health department showed the vast majority of people contracting COVID-19 in the state are unvaccinated.

Less than 44% of South Carolinians aged 12 and older have completed their vaccinations against COVID-19, placing the state in the bottom half of vaccination rates in the country.

Young adults lag significantly behind other age groups in vaccine uptake as with growing numbers of young adults nationwide are contracting the illness. Fewer than 19,000 of the 2.1 million South Carolina residents who have started their vaccinations are between the ages of 20 and 24.

The fast-moving delta variant will likely become the predominant strain in the state in the next couple of weeks, said Dr. Helmut Albrecht, an infectious disease specialist at the University of South Carolina.

Albrecht said recent outbreaks in the state’s Midlands region have become “disturbingly large by the time we get our hands on them,” he said.

The experts encouraged the unvaccinated to continue social distancing, wearing masks and following other public health guidelines.

Some local governments relaxed or removed mandates on face coverings earlier this year, before Gov. Henry McMaster issued an order limiting such ordinances. The South Carolina Department of Education said earlier this week that it would no longer require people to wear masks on school buses, news outlets reported.

McMaster, who never issued a statewide mask order, defended that decision Tuesday.

“I think we took the right approach from the beginning," McMaster said. "We used common sense. We tried to keep things open, not try to close everything down. And as a result of that, our people are just as healthy or more healthy than they are in other states and our economy, instead of being dead, is very much alive.”

Health officials also confirmed three deaths due to the virus Wednesday, bringing the state's confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 8,675.