The Medical University of South Carolina has reported a whopping 44% increase in Lancaster’s COVID-19 infections from July 16 to July 23.

On Wednesday, July 27, MUSC also reported a 28% increase in the Charleston tri-county area and a 22% increase in the Midlands.

The tracking team posts weekly updates on the four parts of state where MUSC Health has hospitals. The spike is being attributed to the spread of the BA.5 variant.

“Big jump this week,” said Dr. Michael Sweat, who leads the COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project for MUSC.

“We’re in one of those waves. It would be prudent for people to take a stock of their risk and maybe take a break from things like group gatherings for a while. It’s just the reality we’re in,” Sweatt said in release posted on the MUSC website.

The spike has the state’s public health officials once again closely monitoring coronavirus-related hospitalizations across South Carolina.

According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, more than 16,000 new cases of COVID-19, nine deaths and 538 hospitalizations were reported in the state between July 17 and July 23.

Community levels climbing

DHEC’s updated community levels map shows 29 counties in the state with high levels of COVID-19 and 11 counties, including Lancaster, with medium levels.

Counties with high community levels include Aiken, Anderson, Bamberg, Barnwell, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Chesterfield, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Florence, Georgetown, Greenville, Hampton, Horry, Kershaw, Lexington, Marion, Marlboro, Newberry, Oconee, Orangeburg, Pickens, Richland and Williamsburg.

DHEC is urging masking in indoor settings, schools and workplaces in communities with high levels of COVID-19 infections.

Counties with medium community levels include Lancaster, Allendale, Beaufort, Cherokee, Chester, Clarendon Lee, Spartanburg, Sumter, Union and York.

The agency recommends masking up for those in contact with immuno-compromised people or those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 for residents in counties with medium community levels.

DHEC reported 293 new infections in Lancaster County from July 17-23.

With numbers shooting up, DHEC is once again urging parents to get kids vaccinated before the start of the new school year.

“There is no better time than now for all children to get their COVID-19 vaccination so that they can focus 100% on school and not have to worry about missing days or missing events or classes or having their schedules altered due to COVID-19,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, public health director for DHEC during a Wednesday news briefing.

As of July 23, 52.6% of people in South Carolina were fully vaccinated, but only 18% of children ages 5-11 were, and just 1.6% of children under 5 had received their first shot.

Fourth vaccine

Traxler said the state will start offering a fourth COVID-19 vaccine very soon.

On July 13, the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine received an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for those 18 and older.

The state has been allocated 50,000 doses of the Novavax vaccine and started ordering the shots last week. Some doses of the fourth vaccine will be available in the upcoming days.

The Novavax vaccine has also been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Traxler noted the Novavax vaccine differs from the previous three in that it uses a more traditional method of making the shot that has been used for years with others, such as the flu vaccine.

“I do think there are some people who have a lot more confidence and comfort in using the Novavax vaccine,” she said. “I think then they may consider using it and decide to give it a shot, no pun intended.”

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at 803-339-6869.

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at 803-339-6869.

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