Orangeburg County officials are encouraging individuals to wear surgical or N95 masks to help contain the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The recommendation comes as the county continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We have seen an uptick in the omicron variant. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of another surge,” Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said during Monday’s regularly scheduled County Council meeting.

“We have seen people within the community test positive at a higher rate and also within our employee realm we have multiple individuals out with COVID as we speak,” Young continued.

An additional 533 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the T&D Region over a four-day period from Dec. 31 through Jan. 3, according to figures released Jan. 4 by S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Of those, 442 cases were in Orangeburg County alone.

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Orangeburg County Risk Management Official Todd Williams said omicron is becoming the predominant variant in the state and the county.

“Some people who are vaccinated, even with the booster, they are actually catching it,” Williams said. “They are looking at how exactly it is more transmissible than the delta virus and is it going around the immunity of the vaccines.”

Williams said the county’s plans are the same: to make sure residents and employees are vaccinated, masked and tested.

Currently, 53.5% of the county has been fully vaccinated, including the booster shot, he said.

According to CDC and DHEC guidance, individuals are advised to wear surgical masks or N95 masks as they have proven more effective than cloth masks to protect against the omicron variant, Young said.

“Cloth masks, they are saying, will not protect you from the omicron as well as the surgical mask, because the fibers that create a surgical mask are woven to a tighter weave than a cloth mask, which is critical in helping stop droplets transmission,” he said.

“Make sure you start wearing the blue mask instead of the fancy cloth mask or the specialized mask you have on,” Young said. “You want to wear, when you are among people, a surgical mask or an N95.”

Councilwoman Deloris Frazier said she saw a demonstration on television showing that if a person can blow out a candle with a mask on, the mask is not good.

Frazier also expressed concerns about a news report about the deer testing positive for COVID.

“I like to eat deer meat,” Frazier said.

Williams said there has been some research showing that the coronavirus has reached deer.

“As always, make sure you always properly cook your food,” Williams said.

In related matters, council unanimously approved a month-to-month ambulance services agreement with Lifeguard Ambulance Service, LLC to help the county handle the increasing number of transports.

“This will provide us with an additional ambulance to back up the services so we wouldn’t be short when we have situations when we have a shortage of staff,” Young said. “This has been working. We have been doing this since last year. We would like to continue to do it on a month-to-month basis, as needed, as we have these surges of COVID.”

Young said the cost of the lease is dependent on call volume, but the county is estimating it will cost about $100,000 a month to operate and run two ambulance units. The money will come from the federal government’s COVID relief funds.

Last year, the county spent $900,000 in federal dollars for the ambulance service.

Young said there is a shortage of paramedics not only locally but across the state and nation. Many individuals are choosing other professions due to the training required and the dangers of COVID, he said.

In other business:

• Council gave unanimous third and final reading to a fee-in-lieu of taxes agreement with Tri-County Electric Cooperative. The co-op plans to expand broadband internet infrastructure to all cooperative customers and non-members in the utility’s service area.

The project will bring high-speed service specifically to the Santee, Elloree, Vance and Eutawville areas.

The cooperative will spend $10 million in Orangeburg County for the project.

• Council gave unanimous second reading the rezoning of property near the Santee State Park to allow for the development of a recreational vehicle park resort, retail stores and single-family homes.

The property is located at the corner of State Park Road and Acorn Lane.

• Council gave unanimous second reading to a fee-in-lieu of taxes agreement with an existing Neeses solar farm which plans to invest $46.2 million in solar equipment and panels.

The solar farm, located at 238 Juniper Street in Neeses, would pay the county $105,000 annually for the next 30 years with an additional $100,000 paid in the first year.

No new full-time jobs were promised as part of the project.

• Council unanimously passed a resolution entering into a lease-purchase agreement with Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation for the purchase of heavy equipment from Blanchard Machinery Company.

Young said the county has used Caterpillar equipment for road and bridge maintenance over the years. Young said the purchase of Caterpillar equipment is in an attempt to “have consistency in our fleet.”

The equipment will include motor graders, backhoes and track hoes.

* Council Vice Chair Janie Cooper-Smith asked council and the county administration to make combatting litter a priority in 2022.

“This is a big problem that gets little attention,” Cooper-Smith said. “We have litter laws but seemingly little is being done to enforce these laws.”

“Littering is a crime. The more we ignore the crime, the worse it is going to get,” she said.

• Council gave first reading to an emergency ordinance allowing electronic meetings of County Council to continue.

The 60-day extension was approved because of the omicron variant.

• Council congratulated Young for being recognized as The T&D Person of the Year for 2021. Young gave credit to council and those who have supported him over the years for his success.

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