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South Carolina business returns as omicron surge slows, but virus peak still too soon to call

It was busy in downtown Columbia, Saturday, as the surge of the omicron variant slows, but state health officials say we're not out of the woods yet.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Wintry weather and a surge of new COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant once left businesses like The Grand on Main Street with fewer customers than usual, but that tide has turned.

"As soon as people felt better they were coming out," General Manager Christopher Yonce said. "So, there was a little bit of a time there where you kind of, at the beginning of the year, you really wondered what business is going to do, but right now, we wonder no more.”

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), cases of the now dominant omicron strain have slowed, but it's still spreading at a high rate.

“While we all want to, it may be too early to say that we’ve peaked or are nearing the end of the surge," DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said in a Wednesday press briefing. "That said, we have recently begun seeing some incremental decreases in the counts and rates of cases.”

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Testing, vaccinations and booster shots are key to help slow the spread, Traxler added.

To help, DHEC is now distributing around 140,000 at-home rapid tests at public health departments around the state with more than one million still on the way.

This comes as the state continues to see a rise of people seeking testing, after weeks of record-high case numbers not seen since the start of the pandemic two years ago.

Like many businesses, Yonce said they faced staffing challenges as COVID cases increased.

Credit: Kayland Hagwood
Patrons bowling at The Grand.

RELATED: South Carolina school districts look to ramp up free testing for students and staff as COVID cases spike

"It goes right along with our customer base," he said. "I've been very fortunate to have a great staff and some great people working for us.... They worked extra. They worked longer. They worked harder. I said I couldn't be more proud of the staff that I have right now."

Pandemic-era challenges may not soon end as the virus continues to spread.

"We all can and need to play a vital role in ending the pandemic," Traxler said.

While more rapid tests are on the way, DHEC said they remain in limited supply and are not guaranteed, but the federal government is also now offering free tests.

To find a full list of testing locations, visit DHEC online.

RELATED: Yes, you can now order free at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government

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