Jul. 23—Aiken County, and South Carolina as a whole, has seen its COVID-19 numbers begin to rise again, primarily in unvaccinated individuals.
On Friday, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported 39 total COVID-19 cases in Aiken County and 1,212 total cases across the state. It's the first time the state has reported over 1,000 cases in a day in several weeks.
While South Carolina reached the 50% benchmark Thursday for eligible residents who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Aiken County's numbers lag behind the state average.
Only 32% of Aiken County residents have received at least one dose, while 37% are fully vaccinated.
Carolyn Emanuel-McClain, CEO of Rural Health Services in Aiken, said this spike in numbers and lower vaccination rates should be a concern for the community, especially as "we're starting to ramp up again" and people are going out more.
Emanuel-McClain also brought up the new Delta variant of COVID-19, which scientists have said spreads more quickly than the original strain.
"The real concern is our children, because this variant is actually hitting the children," Emanuel-McClain said.
So far, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for those aged 12 or older, while the Moderna and Janssen vaccines have been approved for those aged 18 or older.
DHEC reports the number of variant cases in the state by region instead of county.
The Midlands region, of which Aiken County is a part, has seen 23 Delta cases, with a total of 70 cases across the state, as of July 21.
Local impact of rising numbers
With the rise of the Delta variant and how much faster it can spread, First Baptist Church in Aiken announced Friday that it was canceling its Vacation Bible School program that was slated to begin next week.
John Carroll, the church's pastor, explained the decision as being due to a variety of reasons, including rising case numbers, some of the unknowns about the Delta variant, and that the church had two staff members test positive in the past week.
"I think, if we had just had a little bit of a rise in numbers or that kind of thing, we may not have made this decision," Carroll said. "But, that full breadth of information is what led us to make this decision."
The pastor said it was "really hard" to ultimately cancel the program, but he feels the church's COVID-19 task force made the "decision that is most caring toward our church and our community."
Health officials urge vaccination
DHEC released statistics Friday showing that there were 39 COVID-19-related deaths in South Carolina during the month of June. The agency could determine vaccination status for 21 of them, with 19 of the deaths being non-fully vaccinated residents.
DHEC determined vaccination status for 3,312 of the 5,344 COVID-19 cases reported during June, and 3,079 were not fully vaccinated.
The department also said, of the 243 COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the state during June, it determined the vaccination status of 167 of those hospitalized, with 143 considered not fully vaccinated.
"This data is further proof that vaccinations save lives," said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC's public health director, in a Friday news release. "We can't stress this enough: eligible residents should protect themselves and their loved ones by getting fully vaccinated. Full vaccination is achieved two weeks after a person gets their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single-shot of Janssen. That two-week period is significant because it allows the vaccine to reach full efficacy, giving an individual the best chance to stave off the virus and its impacts if a breakthrough case occurs."
The agency said there have been 542 breakthrough cases to date, or COVID-19 cases in those who are fully vaccinated. While people who have been fully vaccinated can get COVID-19 infection, the illness is much less severe, DHEC said.
More positive cases likely in Aiken
Aiken Regional Medical Centers has 8 positive COVID-19 patients currently receiving care in the hospital, as of July 23.
Jim O'Loughlin, ARMC's CEO, said the hospital hadn't had positive cases for a few weeks and was seeing a downward trend.
"However, with less than 50 percent of South Carolina residents having received the COVID-19 vaccine, we are concerned that if we do not see an increase in vaccinations, we will likely see an increase in positive cases in the coming weeks and months," O'Loughlin said. "If you're not vaccinated, I want to encourage you to get vaccinated to help avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 positives. And if you are vaccinated, please be diligent and continue to wear your mask around individuals outside of your home."
For those who may be on the fence about getting the vaccine, Emanuel-McClain suggested they go see for themselves.
"Talk to people that have been vaccinated," she said, before adding, "It's worth saving your life."
Residents who wish to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment can visit vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov to find a location near them.