South Carolina to start vaccinating elderly this week
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina will let people ages 70 and older schedule appointments for the coronavirus vaccine starting Wednesday.
State officials said Monday that they were confident the majority of people in the state’s earliest phase who wanted to be vaccinated — healthcare workers and those living and working in long-term care facilities — had already received their shots or scheduled appointments.
“Because we’ve seen a dramatic acceleration in vaccine usage and appointments in the last week, we have decided to speed things up again,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. “We know that those 70 and older are at the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19. Making sure they have expedited access to the vaccine will help save lives.”
Officials estimate about 627,800 South Carolinians are 70 or older, and many have already received the vaccine because they were eligible earlier. Those who meet the age requirement are now eligible regardless of health status or pre-existing conditions.
Across the state, more than two-thirds of COVID-19 deaths have been among people ages 70 and older. That’s a much higher death rate per capita compared to COVID-19 deaths among those younger than 70, said Interim Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler.
Eligible South Carolinians can signup for appointments with vaccine providers including major hospitals, seven sites and a mobile clinic run by the Department of Health and Environmental Control, and some urgent care facilities. The health agency said it will add another 50 locations by the beginning of next week.
States are moving to expedite their vaccine rollouts as cases have skyrocketed across the nation. In South Carolina, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 1,440.4 over the past two weeks, an increase of 44.3%, according to Johns Hopkins.
The governor’s office also said Monday that McMaster still planned to give his annual State of the State address in-person this week, resisting calls to hold the event virtually by Democrats who deemed an in-person gathering “deeply irresponsible” during a pandemic.
Nearly 200 state officials along with staffers, media and other attendees typically gather in the House chamber of the Statehouse to hear the Republican governor’s remarks, which are scheduled for Wednesday evening this year. But in a pandemic, the State of the State could become a superspreader event, Senate Democratic leaders Brad Hutto and Ronnie Sabb wrote in a letter to the governor Monday.
“Upholding the tradition for the state of the state this year is simply not worth the destruction it could bring to our colleagues and their communities when they return home,” the letter reads. ”If the grandeur of an in-person audience is what you are seeking, we ask that you consider putting the interest of public health above conceit.”
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor’s office has worked with House and Senate staff to limit the number of people in the chamber to ensure social distancing.
Some South Carolina schools are also enforcing social distancing, while others have reverted to virtual learning as districts begin their spring semesters this month.
Grassroots teacher group SC for Ed said in a statement that many schools are continuing in-person learning, a option the governor and some top lawmakers have pushed for in recent months, in spite of a high rate of community spread. The group added that the decision to keep schools open among all-time-high numbers and hospitals running out of capacity placed both students and teachers in harm’s way.
And mayors across the state are again tightening coronavirus restrictions. In Charleston, Mayor John Tecklenberg rolled back the city’s re-opening plan by a phase, sending municipal employees back to working from home and putting the issuance of city permits on pause.
In Clemson, Mayor Robert Halfacre said on Facebook that the city would shut down businesses that don’t disperse crowds and comply with city rules, as well as inform Clemson University of any students arrested or ticketed. That followed a weekend of reports of multiple gatherings in downtown bars in the college town where students have returned for the semester.