Savannah, Ga (WSAV) – According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, 68 people died from COVID-19 last week in South Carolina.

Doctors we spoke with there and in Georgia expect those numbers to continue to rise. 

“COVID is still causing deaths, or a major contributing factor to some people dying,” says Memorial Health’s Dr. Tim Connelly. 

With the emerging new strain of COVID-19, XBB.1.5. Doctors in our area are seeing more serious cases of COVID and deaths. A combination of multiple factors is why. 

“Gathering together for holidays, that’s primetime for viruses to spread. People aren’t as well protected as they could be or should be with their vaccines and boosters, and you have a variant that spreads more easily, so it’s sort of the perfect storm and unfortunately, it’s led to more cases, more hospitalizations, and now we’re seeing unfortunately more people passing away from COVID-19,” says SCDHEC’s Dr. Johnathan Knoche. 

Here in Savannah—people are feeling the serious effects of the virus. Medical experts at Memorial Health tell News 3 at least four COVID patients in their hospital are currently on ventilators. But doctors say there are things you can do to reduce your risk. 

“Don’t live in fear go on about your regular life, but if you’re high risk, get the vaccine, get the new Bivalent Vaccine. It’s not as effective as the previous vaccines were against the newer strains of covid, but it still significantly reduces your risk of dying,” says Dr. Connelly. 

As for the coming weeks—they say to prepare for things to get worse. 

“We’ll probably see the numbers of cases continue to go up for the foreseeable future in the coming weeks. We have yet to see the full impact,” says Dr. Knoche. 

But doctors say that if you do get COVID, there are medications that can help like Paxlovid – an antiviral pill that is proven to reduce deaths and hospitalizations. It is available for free at most pharmacies.