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WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio | Columbus News, Weather & Sports |

'Nearly miraculous': CDC director says COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by Jan. 1

Dr. Robert Redfield made the announcement in a discussion with SC leaders Thursday, saying state health departments have until Friday to submit a vaccination plan.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The nation's top public health official stopped by the Capital City today.

Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), joined state leaders to discuss the short and long-term effects of COVID-19 in our state.

Redfield also unveiled details on a possible vaccine plan.

"The outbreak is on the increase now and we've got to be vigilant," said Redfield during the discussion with state leaders.

Redfield stressed that the threat of coronavirus is still out there, saying what happens over the next three or four months is in the hands of the American public.

According to The COVID Tracking Project, cases are going up in 37 states. In 42 states, including South Carolina, hospitalizations are also on the rise.

"Where I am worried is the home gatherings, and we're looking at a big one coming up," said Redfield.

Thursday, Redfield commended South Carolina's response to the pandemic and applauded USC's strategy to curb the spread of coronavirus.

As of Monday, the university has an overall infection rate of 0.56%. Thursday, USC reported zero positive test results out of 499 students and faculty tested.

"Within the last four months, it turns out that the universities now are the safest place in town," said Redfield.

RELATED: Dr. Deborah Birx likes how USC is handling coronavirus response

Also discussed Thursday among state leaders were the indirect health effects of COVID-19, such as the pandemic's effect on chronic conditions, substance abuse and mental health.

Since the pandemic began, South Carolina has seen an increase in alcohol and substance abuse.

DHEC says suspected opioid overdoses are 50% higher from January to August of 2020 compared to the same time last year.

USC President Bob Caslen said the university sends out a mental health survey every week. "20 to 25% say that they are struggling with COVID here on campus," said Caslen. "Both students and faculty."

Earlier this year, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) launched a statewide support line for those in need of mental health or substance use services. 1-844-SC-HOPES connects callers to trained clinicians who can address their needs.

"Health is available and Hope is available. We say social isolation, but the key to this is staying connected in the safest way possible," said Sara Goldsby, DAODAS Director.

One of the biggest questions about the pandemic involves a vaccine. Many wonder when it will be available.

Dr. Redfield believes a vaccine will be ready to be distributed by January 1, 2021, "Which I think is really nearly miraculous," said Redfield. "When you can think within nine months we're going to have potentially one or two approved vaccines, that's something that normally takes four to six years."

States must submit their vaccine distribution plan to the CDC by Friday, October 16.

We checked with SCDHEC, who told us they're on target to have their plan submitted on time.

RELATED: SC says it'll be ready for COVID vaccine as soon as it's finished

We requested a copy of DHEC's vaccine distribution plan. We'll let you know when we get it.

Health experts urge South Carolinians to continue to take the pandemic seriously by washing your hands, social distancing, avoiding large crowds - especially indoors - and wearing a mask.

"If we all did that, we would really control this pandemic," said Redfield. "We wouldn't eliminate it, but we would bring it back under control within 6 to 12 weeks."