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Cases declining but pandemic isn’t over yet, lead SC epidemiologist says

There is an expected post-Memorial Day increase in COVID-19 cases.
Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 6:58 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With businesses busier than ever, beaches packed, and airports full over the holiday weekend, it might have been easy to forget South Carolina remains in the middle of a pandemic, and health experts worry that could lead to a rise in cases.

“We are still experiencing worldwide, nationwide, and statewide moderate transmission. We are encouraged by the decline in cases, but we are still at risk of ongoing transmission,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said.

Dr. Bell said throughout the pandemic, about two weeks after a major holiday there has been a spike in COVID-19 infections across the state.

With almost 40% of South Carolinians fully immunized against the virus, there is less of a concern Memorial Day weekend activities will lead to a dramatic spike in cases than before. But, Bell said there is still a likelihood that cases will spike some.

“We do know that there will be additional cases and if we continue to see anymore hospitalization or any more losses that could’ve been preventable...I just implore people to continue to pay attention to the fact that while the risk may be declining for plenty the majority of our population are still at risk,” Bell said.

The state’s leading epidemiologist is particularly concerned about the young people who are only recently eligible or still not eligible to receive the vaccine who may be gathering over the summer.

While she is proud of the state’s increasing vaccination rate, declining case numbers, and decreasing hospitalizations, she doesn’t want people to forget the CDC safety guidelines still apply to unvaccinated people.

When asked when South Carolina can declare victory against the virus, Dr. Bell wouldn’t give an exact benchmark.

“When we know that a significant proportion of the population [has been vaccinated], we are talking roughly 70% to get that herd immunity, we will feel comfortable that the majority are not at risk at ongoing transmission,” she said. “I am not saying we will make some declaration that the pandemic is over because the other thing we have to pay attention to is we are in a worldwide community.”

Bell explained while travel is permitted and the virus continues to circulate in countries around the world, there is still a risk that infections can increase. In particular, because as viruses circulate they also mutate, and while it hasn’t happened yet, a variant of the virus could emerge that is immune to the currently available vaccines.

The doctor reminds people as they are planning their summer that it still takes two weeks after the final vaccination to be fully immunized against the virus.

And she adds it’s important to remember to keep social distancing and masking if you’re unvaccinated, not only for yourself but for others who haven’t had the chance to get the shot yet.

“If we know we can prevent another death, another hospitalization, I ask people...why wouldn’t we?” she said.

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