Over 1,700 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in South Carolina on Tuesday, including 28 new cases in Aiken County. 

This is the highest number of coronavirus cases that have been confirmed in the state and in Aiken County in a single day.

State health authorities also reported 17 new coronavirus-related deaths Tuesday and are investigating two probable deaths. Aiken and Edgefield counties each had one of the 15 elderly victims who died. Two other victims were middle-aged individuals from other parts of the state. 

Both the victims whose deaths are being investigated for coronavirus complications are from Spartanburg County. 

In the latest batch of testing, 19% of test results were positive for coronavirus. This means nearly one in five people tested positive for COVID-19. 

With Independence Day weekend just a few days away, state health authorities are urging South Carolinians to remain at home and refrain from hosting large gatherings due to the state's worsening outbreak.

"More and more of South Carolina’s positive cases are individuals who participated in group gatherings without keeping a safe distance from others or wearing masks," the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said Tuesday in a news release.

According to the agency, cases in South Carolina are the "highest they've ever been" and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are also increasing. The agency said a lack of social distancing and people's refusal to wear masks is contributing to the state's skyrocketing case numbers.

South Carolina has 36,297 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 735 deaths due to coronavirus complications as of June 30. 

Over 1,000 people are hospitalized statewide due to coronavirus or are being investigated for having coronavirus, DHEC said Tuesday. Approximately 72% of hospital beds in the state are occupied. 

DHEC is encouraging state residents to remain at home July 4 and have private, safe celebrations for the holiday if they wish to do so. Virtual celebrations or socially distant celebrations, such as remaining in vehicles to watch fireworks shows, are also an option, S.C. DHEC said.

A number of local events have already been canceled, including Fire Over Aiken and the Fort Gordon Independence Day celebration. State parks and Thurmond Lake are among the venues that will remain open for the holiday, though some places have banned large group gatherings. 

Several area businesses that sell fireworks have reported unusually high sales due to the amount of people having celebrations at home. 

For those headed to the beach, DHEC has issued warnings over COVID-19 outbreaks that have been traced back to large gatherings on South Carolina's coast. According to state health officials, some people took trips to the state's beaches recently and did not social distance.

“The virus is rapidly spreading across the state, with some of the largest increases in our coastal communities,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, S.C. DHEC public health director in a news release. "We’ve all given so much for so long, and we all want to be at our beautiful beaches, at our parks, our friends’ houses, our block parties and community events but I’m asking all of us to stay vigilant in the fight against this deadly virus.

"While we celebrate our country’s birthday, please help your communities, especially those who are at increased risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death," she continued. If we all pledge to wear our face masks, stay six feet apart, and wash our hands often, together we will reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. That’s how we 'Stay SC Strong.’”

The agency also reiterated the need for the state's younger residents to take social distancing seriously. S.C. DHEC has seen a 966% increase in coronavirus cases among residents aged 11-20 years old.

“In addition to the disheartening increases in young people transmitting the virus to their family and friends, new data indicate that asymptomatic people can spread the virus more easily than initially thought,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell on Tuesday. “If you’ve tested positive but don’t have symptoms, it’s imperative that you complete your quarantine period in order to not spread the virus to others while you’re contagious.”

Kristina Rackley is the health, education, and general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard. To support local journalism and access more articles, subscribe by clicking here