COLUMBIA, S.C. — Millions of people returned home Sunday after another busy holiday travel weekend riddled with flight cancellations and delays.
The changes were caused, in part, from a surge of new coronavirus cases, fueled by the omicron strain, leading to staffing shortages in industries across the nation.
On Friday, the Palmetto State saw its highest daily COVID-19 count on record with more than 8,800 cases reported, a number health officials worry will likely rise in the coming days.
Last week, Dr. Brannon Traxler, Public Health Director with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), called the rise in cases "flat out alarming," urging everyone to take precautions like mask wearing and increased vaccinations.
"We recognize at this point that people are numb to the data, but these stats aren't simply numbers," Traxler said. "They represent people. They represent people who are our family members, our friends and our loved ones, who are sick, who are hospitalized and, unfortunately, some of whom who are dying from this disease."
On Sunday, the line for COVID-19 testing circled the parking lot and stretched down the road at DHEC's Bull Street site.
The agency is asking for patience as some sites see wait times between 30 and 45 minutes.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise, including people on ventilators and in the ICU. Doctors are urging those with mild symptoms to stay home.
"If you aren't having any difficulty breathing or catching your breath, I recommend trying an over-the-counter antihistamine or some Mucinex and usually symptoms resolve in a couple of days," Dr. Todd Crump with Lexington Medical Center said.
The rise in cases comes as schools prepare to return from winter break. The State Department of Education is urging families to consider DHEC guidance to stay safe.
Meanwhile, the impact from holiday travel is still unknown.
"Get yourself tested if you have any reason to think you might have been exposed or have symptoms," DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer said, "and definitely, get the vaccine and your booster as soon as you're eligible."
While state health leaders work to add more testing sites and increase capacity at existing locations, they are concerned cases will get worse before they get better.