The state Department of Health and Environmental Control on Thursday announced 264 new cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina, including 33 in Horry County.
The agency also announced 24 new confirmed deaths connected to the disease in the state. One new death was reported in Horry County.
Horry County's cumulative total of COVID-19 cases is now 9,550, and 181 of those patients have died. The state's cumulative total is 124,397 with 2,823 who've died.
The state reported 4,417 COVID-19 test results from Wednesday. Of those, six percent came back positive. The number does not include antibody tests. Since the pandemic began, the state has conducted 1,098,359 tests.
As of Wednesday, Horry County hospitals were at 87.9% capacity.
During media briefing Thursday, DHEC Director of Immunization and Prevention Stephen White said the public health agency was preparing to roll out a vaccine distribution plan this fall, if a vaccine is available, but cautioned that there was no guaranteed date by which the immunization would be ready.
There are three vaccines being developed in the U.S. and undergoing Phase 3 testing, one of the last steps before the vaccine can be approved.
"We are all hopeful that one of these vaccines will help put an end to this unrelenting virus that spreads without symptoms, literally stealing the breath from our loved ones and neighbors, colleagues and friends, not just in South Carolina, but across the country and across the world," White said.
When vaccines do become available, the limited doses will be saved first for those at highest risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. They include nursing home residents, frontline health care workers, nursing home workers and critical infrastructure employees. Those critical infrastructure employees include people working in fields such as healthcare, transportation, information technology, energy, communications, food and agriculture, critical manufacturing, government, emergency services and other industries.
"We’ve been assured by key scientific stakeholders like the National Institutes of Health that no vaccine will be released until it has undergone that rigorous scientific and clinical testing that all vaccines in development are held to," White said, adding that months after the initial rollout, DHEC expected to be able to provide vaccines to the general public.
The vaccines will be two-dose immunizations with 21 to 28 days or longer in between treatments, White said. People will need the same brand of vaccine for the first and second dose.
In the meantime, DHEC stressed the importance of wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding large crowds and other measures that help slow the spread.
"We encourage anyone who thinks they should get tested to get tested, and anyone who is regularly out and about in their community and in close proximity to others because of work or other reasons to get tested routinely, at least once a month or more," White said.
This week, state health officials announced a new pledge project aimed at helping the business community stem COVID-19 cases.
Stay SC Strong encourages businesses to curb the virus' spread in the workplace by following four major safety practices that can lower the risk of infection for employees, customers and clients and other stakeholders.
Click here to find out more about the initiative.
Tidelands Health is offering free drive-through COVID-19 testing every Tuesday in Pawleys Island and each Friday in Myrtle Beach.
The Pawleys Island testing is scheduled for 3-5 p.m. or until supplies run out every Tuesday at the Precious Blood of Christ Catholic Parish, 1633 Waverly Road.
The Myrtle Beach testing is scheduled for 2-5 p.m. or until supplies run out every Friday at Horry-Georgetown Technical College's Conference Center at 950 Crabtree Lane.
Each testing event will have enough DHEC-supplied test kits to handle 250 people. Pre-screening is not required.
Currently, there are 308 mobile testing events scheduled through Oct. 17, and there are 233 permanent testing sites in South Carolina. Find a testing clinic or event near you at scdhec.gov/covid19testing.