Central Coast residents are advised to strengthen their protection against COVID-19 to prevent another winter surge of cases, especially following the detection of the omicron variant in California this week.

San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department officials on Thursday advised residents to remain vigilant by getting vaccinated against COVID-19 if they haven't already, and to continue with habits like handwashing, wearing masks in public places, and staying home when sick.

This is especially important as increased indoor gatherings around the winter holidays bring the potential of increased transmission of illness, health officials said.

Last December, the region saw a surge in COVID-19 cases that filled hospitals with more COVID-19 patients than ever before and led to skyrocketing death rates in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

“With delta, we are already facing a variant that spreads more quickly than the virus that filled our hospitals last winter. We have tools we didn’t have then: life-saving vaccines and the hard-earned knowledge and tools to make this winter different," said county Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein.

While the still-dominant delta variant is known to be highly transmissible compared to the early virus, little is known about the transmissibility or severity of the new omicron variant, which was first identified by South African officials last week.

“While it’s natural to feel frustrated and concerned at the news of a new variant at this unstable time, I want to remind our community that we are not powerless,” Borenstein said.

The COVID-19 vaccine is free and available to all residents age 5 and up, regardless of documentation status, and health insurance is not required.

Residents can obtain their primary vaccine series and their booster by visiting myturn.ca.gov.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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