COLUMBIA, S.C. — As the number of newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases continues to rise in South Carolina, health officials Wednesday reported the first death from the flu in the state.
The death was only identified as a person in the Pee Dee region, the Department of Health and Environmental Control said in a statement.
Health officials said the death underscored the need for everyone to get a flu shot to prevent hospitals from dealing with a possible crush of both COVID-19 and flu cases this winter — as well as the personal disaster of someone having both diseases at the same time.
“So many generations before us would have given anything to have a flu vaccine. With COVID-19′s prevalence across our state, we must every opportunity we have like the vaccines that medical science has afforded us to help prevent illness like the flu,” the state epidemiologist, Dr. Linda Bell, said in a statement.
South Carolina reported 141 flu deaths last flu season and about 6,700 confirmed cases, although health experts suspect many more people have the flu and aren’t tested.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly. The seven-day average of new cases has been climbing steadily for six weeks, now reaching more than 1,450 newly diagnosed cases a day. At the summer peak, when South Carolina was at or near the top of the nation, the state was averaging about 1,900 new cases a day.
Twenty-two COVID-19 deaths were reported Wednesday, the second-highest total this month, according to DHEC.
So far, the state has confirmed more than 3,900 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began in March.
Bell also spent part of Wednesday answering questions from reporters about two different COVID-19 vaccines. Both will likely undergo federal review soon to see if they are ready for wider distribution.
The state is making broad, detailed plans on how to get the vaccines to people that change every day. The chief goal is to get any COVID-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable people or workers in jobs where they can face constant exposure, Bell said.
Then the vaccinations will expand to more people, eventually reaching everyone, although exactly when that might happen is not known, Bell said.
In the meantime, people need to continue to wear masks, stay 6 feet apart and wash their hands frequently. They should also avoid being in groups indoors as much as possible, including holiday gatherings, Bell said.
“Before we can stop or relax these prevention measures and rely entirely on the vaccine, we’d have to get to a population coverage of very high levels, up to 90% of the population,” Bell said.
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