SC epidemiologist urges citizens to wear masks, social distance amid rise in COVID-19 cases

The numbers look good for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, but there is still more work to do.
The numbers look good for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, but there is still more work to do.(WIS)
Updated: Nov. 19, 2020 at 7:37 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Thursday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 1,410 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the percent positive at 14.5%.

The spike in cases comes as many students and families get ready to travel for the holidays or host family across the Midlands.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said she’s concerned by the numbers and the high positivity rate, saying that the state isn’t going in the direction she hoped. She thinks the reason for that is there are preventative measures that people aren’t taking.

She said the use of masks, social distancing, and knowing your COVID-19 status are all means to make sure that cases don’t rise.

“We have preventative measures that are available that aren’t being used as widely as possible,” Dr. Bell said. “We continue to see cases because there is spread from person to person, and I’m concerned that we have means at hands to prevent that with the highly effective use of masks, of physically distancing from people to prevent exposure to respiratory droplets, avoiding groups settings, having people know their COVID-19 status and to stay in isolation if they’re positive. We have so many means at our disposal that aren’t being used, and that’s why our cases are going up. We can change that and we should.”

The rise in cases also comes as mask mandates in many cities and towns have expired. It’s something that Bell said she recommends against, saying it’s not time yet to relax policies when the state is continuing to see an increase in cases.

As cases rise across the state, schools are also seeing a spike in cases and many teachers have expressed concern about the ability to social distance in the classroom. Dr. Bell said they are working on bringing rapid testing to schools for teachers and staff, and continue to speak with teachers and school nurses about how to control the number of cases.

“We are hearing routinely from the teachers, and we work with the school nurses to do everything we can to balance the spread of disease in schools with a safe learning environment.,” Bell said. “But again, we have those measures in place because we know they work. These are group settings. They are in contact with each other for hours throughout the day, so that makes the use of masks and physical distancing ever more important.”

However, Bell said she’s encouraged by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the way they are showing to be 95% effective. She said that it’s going to be a few weeks before approval, but it’s going to be a matter of months before it reaches the larger population.

Bell said the biggest limitation, at least initially, is the number of available doses, and it’s important to remain vigilant until then. She said the reason Pfizer and Moderna have been able to move so quickly in the vaccine development is earlier research on the SARS disease, as well as the funding given to the vaccine development.

“That fact that there was the investment in the rapid development of these vaccines, that’s very encouraging,” Bell said. “People should not take that to mean that there were any steps skipped. The development of the COVID-19 vaccines has gone through the same process for research, development, and for testing of the safety and efficacy as all other vaccines.”

She said one thing we don’t know right now is how long people will be protected by the vaccine.

She said right now, the focus is on making sure their sites that will be administering the vaccine are accessible to all areas of the state and that they are equipped to vaccinate people rapidly.

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