SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is warning people about rising COVID-19 deaths.

“We know COVID-19 fatigue is real, but we are back at a point where dozens of South Carolinians are losing their lives to this virus every week,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, the state’s director of public health.

Dr. Traxler said they’re seeing more severe illness in COVID-19 cases.

“Right now, we’re seeing significant increases in hospitalizations and in deaths,” said Dr. Traxler.

During the first week of January, which is the most recent data available, she said 68 people died from COVID-19. It’s up from 61 deaths the week prior and 48 deaths the week before that. She said more than 85% of the COVID-19 related deaths reported during the first week of January were in people 65 years or older.

“Spartanburg, Horry, and Richland counties were identified as having slightly higher numbers of deaths than other counties, but again, for one week, it’s hard to say too much,” said Dr. Traxler.

To measure the impact of COVID-19 on health care systems, DHEC refers to the CDC’s community levels map. Counties in yellow are experiencing medium transmission levels and Dr. Traxler said people should mask up if they’re high risk for COVID-19 or immunocompromised.

“Masking up is one of the most effective and easy ways to reduce your risk of illness,” said Dr. Traxler.

Red counties have high transmission levels and people are encouraged to take stricter precautions in those areas.

“We encourage anyone who’s in a red colored county to mask up when they’re in indoor settings and around other people until those community levels come back down,” said Dr. Traxler.

Dr. Traxler encouraged people to stay safe and get vaccinated.

“The more people we have on board with these important recommendations, the quicker we can drive these numbers, these death numbers down and ensure the safety and health of our friends and family,” said Dr. Traxler.

She said bivalent vaccines protect against the original COVID -19 virus and newer omicron variants. Dr. Traxler said the CDC and Food and Drug Administration reviewed data and clinical records and found there’s no increased risk of stroke for people 65 and older who receive a bivalent vaccine.

“So it does mean that these vaccines remain safe and effective,” said Dr. Traxler.

DHEC said 54% of people statewide are fully vaccinated.