For the first time in more than two months, Lexington County is no longer recommended to mask against COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
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The county’s COVID Community Level is now medium, dipping below high for the first time since July 15.
The Community Levels are a tool provided by the CDC using updated local data to provide guidance on how to best combat the virus. A high level triggers a universal recommendation to mask in indoor public spaces. A medium level brings a recommendation only for those at high risk for severe illness or those on public transportation to wear masks.
A low level, which all but six of South Carolina’s 46 counties have this week, still brings a recommendation to mask on public transportation, but otherwise masking is only recommended for those who test positive for COVID, have symptoms, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.
No counties in the state have a high Community Level this week.
The shift from last week to this week in South Carolina is substantial, as six counties in the state had high levels last week, while 19 graded as medium.
Lexington County’s case rate has dropped precipitously of late. In the seven days leading up to Sept. 22, the county reported 180.75 new cases per 100,000 people, down from 264.1 the week before and 331.5 two weeks prior.
The county still went up in one of the other two metrics that go into calculating Community Levels, as the percentage of inpatient hospital beds occupied by COVID patients was 4% (rising from 3.7%).
Lexington was down in the other metric, with 11.6 new COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 people (dropping from 12.3).
Posting less than 200 new cases per 100,000 people is a key threshold in the Community Level calculations — if the county’s rate was still above 200, its number of new COVID hospital admissions would still trigger a high level.
Two of Lexington County’s neighbors (Newberry and Richland) have medium levels this week, while four (Saluda, Aiken, Orangeburg and Calhoun) have low levels.
Though COVID levels in the state are dropping, DHEC still encourages COVID vaccinations and boosters along with vaccinations for the flu as the state enters colder months.
“While COVID-19 disease rates are declining, it is still a deadly virus that is best staved off through vaccinations and boosters,” Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist, is quoted in a release. “As we approach the cooler months when respiratory illnesses tend to increase, residents will need to make sure they are protecting themselves against COVID-19 and influenza before higher case rates occur. Keeping South Carolinians safe and out of the hospital is our primary goal and we can accomplish that through these life-saving vaccines for both flu and COVID-19.”
DHEC recommends flu and COVID vaccines for everyone over the age of six months, and COVID boosters are available to various age groups. Flu and COVID vaccines can safely be administered together during the same visit, DHEC notes.
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