BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – The Palmetto State’s vaccine rollout continues as the state sees COVID-19 cases at record levels.
South Carolina and neighboring states trail the rest of the country in its rollout. According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), as of Friday, roughly 146,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in the state.
South Carolina is currently in phase 1a, prioritizing health care workers and first responders. On Wednesday, the state also expanded eligibility to anyone age 70 or older, regardless of preexisting conditions.
Meanwhile, all of the state’s long-term care facility residents and staff are receiving the vaccine through a federal program.
To speed up the process, DHEC and the labor department issued an order expanding the number of medical professionals allowed to administer the vaccine. This means some medical students, retired nurses and others are now authorized to give pre-measured shots.
And on Friday, Gov. Henry McMaster asked hospitals across the state to temporarily cut down on some procedures.
“Voluntarily scaling back elective and non-essential procedures now, in order to increase the number of vaccinations being delivered on an hourly and daily basis, will help improve the public’s confidence and participation in our state’s COVID-19 response,” the governor wrote in a letter to the head of the South Carolina Hospital Association.
But according to DHEC, many hospitals have already had to cancel elective services to deal with the overwhelming patient increase. At this time, 84% of South Carolina’s roughly 11,300 hospital beds are in use, and of those, more than 2,400 are COVID-19 patients.
Officials say now is a critical time for all South Carolinians to take immediate action to stop the spread of COVID-19.
According to DHEC, during the first week of the new year, the state hit new records with its highest total number of new cases (5,088 on Jan. 6) and its highest positivity rate (34.2% on Jan. 5).
In the last two weeks, DHEC confirmed more than 45,000 South Carolinians were infected with COVID-19.
“Until the COVID-19 vaccines become more readily available and enough people are vaccinated, we must all act now or continue to face unprecedented numbers of cases that are overwhelming our hospitals and healthcare systems, as well as taking the lives of those we love,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, interim public health director for DHEC.
“To do that, every one of us must recommit to the fight,” she added. “We are all on the frontlines. If we don’t act now, we could face many dark months ahead.”
The department has shifted its efforts from containment to community mitigation. Essentially, because COVID-19 is so prevalent, it is not in the state’s best interest to have contact tracers notify those possibly exposed on an individual basis.
As the state faces these challenges, DHEC stresses the importance of wearing masks, getting tested, practicing social distance, washing hands, avoiding large crowds and staying home when sick.
“Our chance of getting the best outcome hinges on us all doing our part,” Traxler said.