‘I think people feel like it’s all wrapped up, but this could be spreading’

July 01, 2021
Illustration of Delta COVID-19 variant.
Illustration of the Delta variant. iStock

First things first. While the latest update from the Medical University of South Carolina’s COVID-19 tracking team shows a more than 80% increase in cases for the Tri-county area compared with the previous week, the total number of cases is still low – 106 for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties combined.

“I wouldn't take that too seriously, because tiny changes create some big numbers with the percentages,” said team leader Michael Sweat, Ph.D.

But he is taking something else seriously: the potential for the Delta variant to cause new problems. “It’s incredibly contagious. I see what’s happening in other countries and I can’t imagine that we’re not going to see something happen here.”

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

Case in point: Australia. “They just had a limo driver who drove an airline crew and caught the Delta variant. He went on to spread it just unbelievably. They had all these video shots where he had gone into a mall and walked past people. And then they found those people. He’d stood by them for 10 seconds and walked off, and they picked it up. Now, it’s just spreading all over the country.”

The Delta variant, first identified in India, is already causing problems in small pockets of the United States. “In some states, Missouri in particular, and then down in Texas, it's growing real fast. It’s moving down. In Arkansas, they're getting some very high numbers. It’s going to happen in other places, particularly places with low vaccination rates.”

About 48% of South Carolinians have had at least one COVID-19 shot, compared with the national average of 66%. “We still have a lot of people who haven’t been vaccinated,” Sweat said.

“I think people feel like the pandemic is all wrapped up, but this variant could be spreading without being caught right away.”

As of June 28, ten cases of the Delta variant had been identified in South Carolina. Sweat said that’s probably not the real total since so few COVID-19 samples are being screened for variants right now. That’s actually good news, in a way - our case numbers are so low that there aren’t many samples to examine.

“There’s minimal risk in our area. But I'm afraid we're going to turn into Missouri. You know, we're going to suddenly see a lot of people get infected.”

If we do, Sweat said they’re likely to be younger people, for the most part. And most will have mild infections.

But when you’re dealing with a variant that has made some people who already had COVID-19 sick again, it’s no time to let down your guard. “I think we’re going to be living with COVID-19 for a long time.”

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