For the first time in more than two months, Lexington County is no longer recommending masking against COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The county’s COVID community level is now moderate, falling below the high for the first time since July 15.
The Community Levels are a tool provided by the CDC that uses updated local data to provide guidance on how best to combat the virus. A high level triggers a universal recommendation to dress up in public interiors. A medium level only brings a recommendation for people at high risk of serious illnesses or people on public transport 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 have tested positive for COVID-19 symptoms have or been exposed to someone who has tested positive.
This week, no county in the state has a high community level.
The shift from last week to this week in South Carolina is significant as six counties in the state had high scores last week while 19 were rated as moderate.
Lexington County’s case rate has plummeted recently. In the seven days ended Sept. 22, the county reported 180.75 new cases per 100,000 people, up from 264.1 the week before and 331.5 two weeks earlier.
The county still rose 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% (up from 3.7%).
Lexington was down in the other metric with 11.6 new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people (down from 12.3).
The release of fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000 people is a key threshold in community-level calculations — if the county’s rate were still above 200, the number of new COVID hospitalizations would still trigger high levels.
Two of Lexington County’s neighbors (Newberry and Richland) have medium scores this week, while four (Saluda, Aiken, Orangeburg, and Calhoun) have low scores.
Although COVID levels are falling in the state, DHEC continues to promote COVID immunizations and boosters, as well as vaccinations for the flu as the state enters the colder months.
“While COVID-19 illness rates are declining, it is still a deadly virus that is best countered by vaccination and booster shots,” Dr. Linda Bell, state epidemiologist, quoted in a press release. “As we approach the cooler months, when respiratory illnesses tend to rise, residents need to ensure they protect themselves against COVID-19 and influenza before higher case numbers emerge. Our primary goal is to keep the people of South Carolina safe and out of the hospital, and we can do that with these life-saving vaccines for both influenza and COVID-19.”
DHEC recommends flu and COVID vaccines for anyone over the age of six months, and COVID booster vaccines are available for different age groups. Flu and COVID vaccines can be safely administered together during the same visit, DHEC notes.
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