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EDITORIAL: Following guidance makes sense

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By now it is clear this is no longer a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the virus is impacting the vaccinated and unvaccinated, but thankfully with a sickness that is far less severe than what has gone before with COVID-19.

Vaccination remains a priority and official guidance is that being vaccinated is the best protection against serious illness from COVID. But officials continuing to ridicule those opting out of the vaccine is not going to achieve the desired objective of getting them to take the shots. And mandates are and will create other types of problems in the workplace and beyond.

As much as we have consistently gone with official guidance that vaccination is wise, expecting large numbers of unvaccinated Americans now to get the shots is unrealistic, unless another variant comes along that has far worse impact. In fact, the real hope now is that the massive spread of Omicron will yield the herd immunity so long being sought and the COVID pandemic will be over.

For now, it’s important to know what to do and not do during the present disease surge.

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Because hospitals and doctors’ offices are once again being overwhelmed by patients -- with COVID-19, the flu and other illnesses or injuries – the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the S.C. Hospital Association are advising residents that most COVID-positive individuals with mild to moderate symptoms can safely recover at home without emergency medical attention, and anyone needing a COVID-19 test should visit a testing site or pharmacy instead of an emergency room.

“The COVID-19 virus and its variants affect people’s health to varying degrees, causing death and severe illness in some people while others who contract the virus have mild or no symptoms,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC public health director. “For those fortunate enough to have mild or moderate symptoms, you can help ease the burden on our state’s medical professionals by treating your illness at home like you would for the flu or a cold. Because COVID-19 has taken so many lives and put so many people in hospitals, we need to ensure our state’s medical resources – which are overworked and stretched thin – are open and available to the people who will become gravely ill from this evolving virus or have other medical emergencies.”

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General guidance for when to recover at home and when to seek emergency medical care includes:

• Call 911 or visit an emergency department: someone having difficulty breathing, intense chest pain, unexpected extreme weakness or disorientation, or a severe allergic reaction.

• Do not call 911 or visit an emergency department: someone with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms, including a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or body aches. Instead, follow isolation protocols and treat your symptoms at home with over-the-counter medication following label instructions or call your primary care physician.

• Do not call 911 or visit an emergency department: to get tested or receive a vaccine. Instead, use DHEC’s testing locator map and vaccine locator map to find a site near you.

While most cases of COVID-19 are not severe, anyone who has tested positive for the virus – whether they develop illness or not – can spread the virus to others.

If you test positive for COVID-19 or have COVID symptoms but cannot get a test, you need to isolate regardless of your vaccination status:

• Stay home and avoid in-person contact with others for at least five days.

• If you have no symptoms after day five, you can end isolation but must wear a mask around others for five more days.

If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19:

• If you have received the vaccine doses you're eligible for (completed initial vaccination series and booster for ages 16 and up, or completed initial vaccination series for ages 5-15), you don't have to quarantine. DHEC recommends you get tested on day five and wear a mask around others for 10 days.

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• Individuals are eligible for a booster six months after completing their Pfizer or Moderna vaccination series, or two months after their single-dose of Janssen.

• If you are not vaccinated or you have completed your primary vaccination series and are booster eligible, but haven't gotten a booster, you need to quarantine for five days. DHEC recommens you get tested on day five and wear a mask around others for five more days.

• If you develop symptoms, stay home and get tested.

Following the guidance is about more than protecting yourself. Spreading the virus can mean terrible illness or death for high-risk individuals. Again, getting fully vaccinated and receiving a booster shot if eligible, wearing masks, getting tested when needed, and physical distancing are the most effective methods for ending the pandemic that we all want to see over.

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