City of Columbia requiring employees to be vaccinated.

The city of Columbia has unanimously voted to require city employees to be vaccinated by Nov. 1, with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin saying there is a need to protect vulnerable citizens from the coronavirus.

With 20,767 COVID-19 cases reported in South Carolina during the last seven days, Benjamin said action must be taken to battle a surge in infections of the contagious delta variant, especially for children under age 12 who are too young to receive a COVID vaccination.

Benjamin cited S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control data showing that more than 17,000 children under age 10 have been diagnosed with COVID since S.C. schools reopened in late July, with children under 10 making up 12% of all new COVID cases in the last six weeks. Those numbers have led to four dozen schools temporarily transitioning to full virtual learning, Benjamin said, citing S.C. Department of Education statistics.

"The data's been daunting," Benjamin said Tuesday before Columbia City Council unanimously passed the measure. "The surge in infections among young children is forcing schools to suspend in-person classes and taxing children's hospitals across the state. A public health crisis creates an education crisis, and an education crisis creates an economic crisis. Mom and Dad have to go home to take care of the most important things and the most important people in their lives."

As of Sept. 1, 4,076 cases have been reported in S.C. public and charter schools, according to DHEC.

Columbia joined the city of North Charleston, which adopted a mandatory vaccination policy for employees last week. Columbiawill also give any city employee who is or becomes fully vaccinated a $500 incentive, and will begin requiring COVID testing by or before Nov. 1.

Before Tuesday's vote, Dr. Roger Caughman Taylor told a Columbia City Council meeting that a wave of pediatric COVID cases has been unlike anything he's seen in his 35-year pediatric career. Taylor, chair of the Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group Department of Pediatrics and senior medical director at Prisma Health Children's Hospital-Midlands, said Prisma pediatric intensive care units in Columbia and Greenville were 100% full on Tuesday, with pediatric emergency rooms seeing waits of up to five hours.

Taylor said the delta variant is highly contagious, putting children too young to be vaccinated at greater risk. Health conditions afflicting S.C. children, including obesity and asthma, exacerbate that risk as...

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