As coronavirus cases have begun rising steadily across much of nation and in South Carolina, only two counties in the Palmetto State are not experiencing “substantial” or “high” COVID-19 transmission rates.
Virus transmission is considered “moderate,” meaning anywhere from 10 to 49 new COVID cases per 100,000 people reported over the past seven days, in Bamberg and Greenwood counties, according to data reported Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only one day earlier, the state had five counties reporting moderate transmission.
On Wednesday, Greenwood County was reporting an average of 43 new cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days, per CDC data, while Bamberg County’s transmission rate was recorded as “suppressed.”
The state’s 44 other counties all report “substantial” (50 or more cases per 100,00 people) or “high” (100 or more cases per 100,000 people) transmission rates as of Wednesday, CDC data show. No South Carolina counties are currently experiencing “low” transmission rates, according to the CDC.
As of Tuesday, the CDC and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control now recommend that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in counties with substantial or high disease transmission wear masks in public indoor settings.
DHEC’s recommendation on mask wearing also extends to students, teachers and anyone else inside schools, though South Carolina law prohibits instituting an enforceable mask mandate in schools.
Federal and state health officials say the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant coupled with low vaccination rates have led to the recent increase in infections across the nation and in South Carolina.
“We were hoping to reach herd immunity to stifle the spread of COVID-19 to prevent this scenario, but public health urgency now makes it necessary to return to recommending universal masking in public indoor settings,” DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said in a statement Tuesday.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals account for the vast majority of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, according to a recent DHEC analysis.
Among those patients for whom vaccination status could be determined, 93% of cases, 86% of hospitalizations and 90% of deaths in June were among those considered not fully vaccinated, state health officials said.
The delta variant likely makes up more than half of all cases in South Carolina and can spread rapidly through unvaccinated or partially vaccinated populations.
As of Tuesday, only 44.3% of eligible South Carolina residents were fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the country.
Zak Koeske contributed reporting.