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Artist's rending of the virus.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - As COVID-19 cases rise in South Carolina, state health leaders warn that public health efforts around the virus are shifting from containing the virus to community mitigation.

DHEC confirmed Thursday that there were 4,809 new confirmed cases of the virus and 18 new confirmed deaths. There were also 136 probable cases and 5 probable deaths tied to the virus. These increases come after South Carolina say a record new daily caseload on Jan. 6 and record positive rate the day before. During the first two weeks of 2021 alone, 45,210 South Carolinians were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in South Carolina to 337,845, probable cases to 33,335, confirmed deaths to 5,420, and 514 probable deaths, per DHEC.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread in our communities at staggering rates, we are calling on South Carolinians to take immediate actions to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, Interim Public Health Director for DHEC. “Until the COVID-19 vaccines become more readily available and enough people are vaccinated, we must all act now or continue to face unprecedented numbers of cases that are overwhelming our hospitals and healthcare systems, as well as taking the lives of those we love. To do that, every one of us must recommit to the fight. We are all on the frontlines. If we don’t act now, we could face many dark months ahead.”

Mitigation measures seek to put case and contact investigations to their best use possible to help public health officials focus on how best to prevent further spread of disease.

During the mitigation phase, efforts of contact investigation change from attempting to find the close contacts of each individual case to prioritizing case investigations of those who have tested positive for or were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 6 days. Starting immediately, contact investigators will focus tracing efforts on household contacts within the last six days, along with people living, working, or visiting shared living facilities, high-density workplaces or other settings and events where a lot of spread is possible.

With more COVID-19 cases comes more hospital bed usage. As of Thursday morning, DHEC reports that acute care hospitals in the state are nearing capacity, with emergency departments being overwhelmed. Of the 11,329 inpatient beds currently used for patient care, 2,427 are occupied by patients positive for the virus or under investigation for it. Further, of the 1,754 ICU beds now used for patient care, 465 are occupied by coronavirus patients. There are also 1,948 ventilators in the state right now, with 744 in use and 290 of those being used by COVID-19 patients. Many hospitals in the state are now cancelling elective services to deal with the overwhelming increase in the number of patients.

DHEC continues urging social distancing, mask-wearing, and staying home when sick, along with routine hygiene and hand-washing.

“Our chance of getting the best outcome hinges on us all doing our part,” Dr. Traxler said. “We need South Carolinians to continue to stand together to fight this disease by taking small steps that make a big difference, including wearing your mask, getting tested and staying home when you’re sick, avoiding large gatherings, practicing physical distancing, and when it’s your turn, getting vaccinated."

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