TOO EARLY TO DITCH THE MASKS? DHEC official urges people to follow health guidelines

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — COVID numbers in the state have been trending down for some time, but are we still in a concerning stage of the pandemic?

DHEC officials say it’s too early to start relaxing just yet.

“According to the CDC county level tracker, all but eight counties in South Carolina are currently experiencing high or substantial transmission,” said Dr. Jonathan Knoche, DHEC medical consultant.

This data is why the medical consultant points out that the pandemic is not over just yet.

The governor is more hopeful about the state making it through the holiday season with low COVID case numbers.

“I’m optimistic but we were optimistic when it went down when COVID first got here. Then it spiked with the variant. It could spike again,” Gov. McMaster said Wednesday.

“We don’t have a crystal ball but there is legitimate concern about what could happen this upcoming winter,” Dr. Knoche said. “We have seen in other places in the world experiencing higher numbers with similar vaccination rates.”

South Carolina has been at 55 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated for a while, with that number not going up recently.

“That’s an individual decision. Peggy and I made our decision,” McMaster said. “We looked at it, thought about it, listened to people and decided to get the vaccine. The others who for a variety of reasons do not want to do it, it’s up to them.”

The governor also believes wearing masks should be up to the people. He says that the end of the emergency mask mandate in Columbia is good news.

“I don’t think it’s necessary at this point,” the governor said. “It is not necessary to have mandates of any kind.”

Dr. Knoche says it’s too early for anyone, vaccinated or not, to take off their mask.

“We’re still recommending that people wear their masks,” Knoche said. “We are well versed in hurricane season here. I don’t know if we are in the eye of the storm or if the storm has fully passed.”

If the storm is still here, South Carolinians between the ages 5 and 11 can now be better protected. A Pfizer vaccine for that age group is readily available.

“There are no concerns of a shortage,” Knoche said. “We can order more vaccines as we need them.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, a little more than 7,000 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have been vaccinated statewide.

McMaster says this is an important decision but one only parents should make.

“I would urge everyone to make up your mind, get the information and make your own decision,” the governor said.

Despite stagnant vaccination numbers, he believes that choice should be an individual one and not a government mandate.

“People know what the virus is all about. They know how to protect themselves,” McMaster said. “We do not need mandates.”

Categories: Local News, Richland