Virus Outbreak South Carolina

Signs line the pathway to a COVID-19 vaccine site operated by PRISMA Health in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

(The Center Square) – With COVID-19 cases up nearly 60% and the number of delta variant cases tripling since late June, South Carolina is offering $5 million in grants to organizations that can get more vaccines into more arms.

The South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control (DHEC) vaccine dashboard reported in its most-recent update 1.88 million state residents have completed the two-shot vaccine regime for a 43.9% statewide vaccination rate, which ranks in the bottom 10 among the nation’s 50 states.

More than 2.14 million people have received at least one dose, meaning 49.8% of state residents over age 12 have received at least one shot. The DHEC reported it’s received nearly 5.3 million doses with 23% available to groups that can find people to vaccinate.

The DHEC anticipates awarding up to 25 grants, averaging $200,000 each and appropriated from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) pandemic assistance, for six-month hyperlocal vaccination programs over the next two years.

“South Carolina is taking advantage of this federal funding to help ensure people in rural areas and minority or vulnerable communities receive the information they need to make informed decisions about vaccines from people they know and trust,” DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said.

“We have said many times that DHEC can’t end this pandemic alone,” he said. “We need state and local officials, teachers and educators, faith and other community leaders and the business community to be COVID-19 ambassadors.”

However, if applicants want to receive a DHEC grant, their plan cannot include unsolicited door-to-door outreach.

Gov. Henry McMaster has prohibited such outreach in tandem with the nationwide Republican campaign against President Joe Biden’s door-to-door vaccine push, claiming it would “further deteriorate the public’s trust and could lead to potentially disastrous public safety consequences.”

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the state has ballooned in the past three weeks, increasing by 7.5%, 18% and then 58% in consecutive weeks, according to the DHEC's COVID-19 dashboard.

South Carolina’s coronavirus outbreak is “tipping in the wrong direction,” Traxler said last week. “Unvaccinated people are fueling the pandemic, especially unvaccinated young people.”

According to the DHEC, the state’s positivity rate Monday was 7.5%, above the 5% rate that indicates the disease’s spread is controllable, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

The DHEC said the “number of Delta variant infections quadrupled last week,” although it did not provide the actual number.

The delta variant is said to be highly transmissible and can dodge vaccine-induced immune responses. The DHEC has been warning an uptick in cases was possible for weeks.

The DHEC said Monday that 351 new cases of the disease had reported since Sunday with another 226 identified as “probable cases.” Two COVID-19-related deaths were reported; 8,694 South Carolinians have died from the disease since March 2020.

The DHEC reported July 2 that 108 people hospitalized with COVID-19. On June 23, 205 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. On July 12, it was 243.

As of Tuesday, however, the DHEC documented 192 COVID-19 patients occupying inpatient beds – 53 of the 1,153 occupied ICU beds statewide were COVID-19 patients – for an overall decline of about 50 hospitalizations from last week, but a pause public health officials fear will be short-lived.

Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said Monday “more than 92%” of the new infections are people who are not fully vaccinated with 100% of those who have died having been unvaccinated.

Kelly said two weeks 19 cases of COVID-19 were reported per 100,000 South Carolinians. Last week it was 39 cases per 100,000. On Monday, it was 62.4 cases per 100,000 residents.