The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that is changing its approach to tracking COVID-19 burden by reducing focus on daily case counts and putting emphasis on severe cases that result in hospitalizations.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) put out a statement that it supports this approach, as it mirrors the agency’s recently announced method of tracking COVID-19 across the state.
“We announced last month that our goal is to bring cases down to a level that allows us to live our normal lives with very little interruption,” said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC Director. “The CDC’s announcement reflects that thinking by using severe COVID-19 cases to measure how the virus is impacting local communities. We agree with this methodology, especially as cases continue declining and rapid at-home tests become even more accessible.”
The new guidelines in part, state:
Rather than focusing on eliminating all virus transmission, CDC will recommend prevention measures, such as masks, when the level of severe disease in communities has the potential to overwhelm the healthcare system. These prevention measures can reduce that strain and avoid crisis.
These new metrics help communities determine which prevention strategies are needed to prevent local disruptions from COVID-19, increase protection against severe disease and strained hospitals, and save lives.
COVID-19 Community Levels combine hospital capacity and COVID-19 hospital admissions with cases to identify when a community is facing a low, medium, or high level of risk from COVID-19.
The data tells how many people in the area are getting sick enough to require medical care, and if the area’s healthcare system has the resources to provide care for all patients, including those who need care for something other than COVID-19.
The updated guidance also provides masking suggestions for when a community is experiencing high, medium, or low levels of transmission.
For low-level transmission in a community, masking is “not needed in most settings,” according to the CDC but remains optional for individuals.
In times of medium transmission, individuals who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, as well as those who are regularly around immunocompromised individuals, are encouraged to mask up, while it is optional for others.
In times of high transmission, community masking is recommended in indoor settings, including schools and workplaces.
“Recent state and federal guidelines are geared toward creating a sense of normalcy we’ve all been waiting for,” Simmer added. “But this new normal has to account for the fact that COVID-19 is still a deadly virus that is here to stay. We must continue following updated guidance and doing our part to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
Vaccination remains the best way to prevent severe cases of COVID-19. Individuals ages 5 and up are encouraged to get their COVID-19 vaccination, and boosters are encouraged for eligible populations. Masking remains an important part of preventing virus spread in communities with high transmission, as does getting tested when you have symptoms or have been in close contact with a person who tested positive, hand washing and physically distancing in public settings.