A year later, SC can’t let down its guard yet

Seema Shrivastava-Patel, S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control, District 2

When COVID-19 swept into South Carolina last March, the deadly disease proceeded to hit us with a gut punch. We did the only thing we could: joined hands and hit back with our initial plans to confront an unknown, rapidly evolving situation.

A year later, we’re still standing, together, fighting the worst pandemic our country has seen in over 100 years. With vaccines now available, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

We South Carolinians have been through a lot this past year.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials reported our state’s first two cases on March 6, 2020. Since then, the virus has sickened and killed many of our loved ones, friends and neighbors. None of us were exempt, my family included.

Our schools, businesses and hospitals have been severely tested. Our lives were disrupted: We went from working and worshipping side by side to being forced to not gather at all in many instances. A simple trip for groceries required wearing masks and keeping six feet apart.

It’s been a tremendous strain on our mental health, another challenge we must address, together.

As a member of the S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control, I am proud to say that, through it all, South Carolinians have had no greater champions than DHEC’s many skilled public health and environmental control professionals. The pandemic, like hurricanes, has caused broad complications that highlight the advantage and importance of having health and environmental functions working together under one agency.

Everything DHEC has done hasn’t been flawless. There is no perfection to be found when battling a killer, unpredictable pandemic; challenges arise that force you to create solutions as you go. But everything DHEC does comes from a good place and for a good purpose.

It’s all about people first: keeping South Carolinians healthy and alive.

While it’s the state’s lead public health agency, DHEC can’t beat COVID-19 alone. The Governor’s Office, the Legislature, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Carolina Emergency Management Division and other state agencies, National Guard, S.C. Hospital Association, hospitals and other providers, frontline workers, volunteers, citizens, and many faith and community partners have been critical to this fight and I thank you. Your selfless commitment to the health and safety of all South Carolinians is deeply appreciated.

DHEC continues to lead disease control activities and keep the public updated.

From collecting and analyzing data to developing statewide testing and contact tracing to drafting a vaccination plan, it’s been a long haul.

The agency’s commitment has been unwavering: 2,883 DHEC staff have worked 1,469,225 hours so far as part of the response. Still, the agency continued to provide critical health and environmental services many in our state depend on.

As of March 1, South Carolina has:

· Conducted more than 6 million tests through DHEC and other partners

· Increased contact tracing staff from 20 statewide before COVID-19 to more than 650

· Answered more than 292,000 calls to the CareLine and vaccination call center

· Given 1,003,558 COVID-19 vaccine shots

· Fully vaccinated 304,724 South Carolinians against COVID-19

· Held more than 33,000 testing events, with over 7,800 more scheduled through March 31

The priority now is vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible while ensuring that all South Carolinians, including those in rural areas, underserved groups, and minorities, are included.

We can’t lower our guards now. Please, stay safe and get tested. When it’s your turn, get vaccinated. Together, with all arms on deck, we can defeat COVID-19. We owe it to ourselves and the many we’ve lost to this dreaded disease.

Seema Shrivastava-Patel is a member of the S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control and represents Congressional District 2.

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