What to know about COVID heading into holidays

November 12, 2021
Illustration of the coronavirus with a red arrow pointing down.
Cases have gone way down in the Tri-county area since our most recent peak in September. Will that trend continue or will we see another winter surge?

Right now, we’re in a good position heading into the holidays when it comes to COVID case numbers. They dropped another 18% in the Charleston Tri-county area in this week’s update from the Medical University of South Carolina’s COVID-19 Epidemiology Intelligence Project.

“We’re close to the same level we were this time last year,” said project leader Michael Sweat, Ph.D. My advice for now would be to go enjoy your time with your family, especially if they've been vaccinated and you've been vaccinated. And you're probably fine.”

His advice will change if the numbers start going up like they did last winter. “Around Thanksgiving through the Christmas period is when it really kind of blew up on us. Watch the growth rate. If it’s going up, be as careful as you can be, no matter what, because it's not over.” 

Dr. Michael Sweat 
Dr. Michael Sweat

Cooler parts of the United States have already seen case numbers rise. What that means for South Carolina is unclear. “In the Southeast, the last winter wave hit later than it did in the rest of the country. It was clearly driven by the holidays and the colder weather, and it really took off massively around January 1. Our summer wave also came later, so we need to be vigilant.”

But we’re in a different position this year thanks to vaccinations, people who have some immunity because they’ve had COVID and new treatments. More than 55% of South Carolinians 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and kids as young as 5 are now eligible to get their shots. An estimated 29% of people in the Tri-county area had COVID infections within the past seven months, which Sweat said should give them some protection against reinfection. 

And new medications to fight COVID are in the pipeline. “More therapeutics are really likely to be a massive game changer, but we've got to engineer ourselves to take advantage of them,” Sweat said. 

That means quickly connecting people who test positive for COVID with treatment to keep the virus from making them really sick and infecting others. “Maybe in the months ahead when we get these antivirals online and that system is in place, I think we're going to go way closer to normal.”

For now, we’re still in a pandemic – but one that we’re getting better at dealing with. “We're in a different space than we were before. And we know a lot more about it,” Sweat said.

Get the Latest MUSC News

Get more stories about what's happening at MUSC, delivered straight to your inbox.