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NC officials issue 'critical and urgent' COVID-19 safety procedures for holiday

As many people are getting ready to see family and friends, doctors say the omicron variant is picking up speed.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper held a COVID-19 news briefing on Monday with an urgent message as thousands of North Carolinians prepare to travel this holiday season. Cooper said the omicron wave could be just days away.

Outgoing Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen issued a new secretarial order with steps people can take to stay safe over the holidays. Cohen said the omicron variant is now being detected in all parts of North Carolina and that it will likely be the dominant strain by mid-January.

“I think we could see as many as 10,000 cases a day at the peak, it’s that infectious. We need to make sure we are acting now,” Cohen said.

State leaders have two main messages for the holiday season: get tested and get boosted. NCDHHS is pledging to ramp up access to COVID-19 testing.

Experts say anyone who is traveling or gathering for the holidays should test one to two days beforehand. Demand for the free rapid tests available at several Mecklenburg County libraries is up.

Increased COVID-19 testing demand

StarMed is offering drive-through COVID-19 testing at many of it's locations, but in most cases a wait is to be expected. At the Tuckaseegee Road location Monday afternoon a long line of cars wrapped the parking lot. Patients were told it could be an hour wait or longer. But some agree it's well worth the wait.

“It’s a precaution for a family member," David Watson said.

“Been around a lot of people lately, cases going up so just want to make sure I’m safe," Brian Gilchrist said.

Another option is an at-home COVID-19 test kit. Shelves at some CVS and Walgreens were already cleared out, but Mecklenburg County is also offering free at-home tests while supplies last and are limiting one test kit per person.

RELATED: LIST: Free, at-home COVID-19 tests in Mecklenburg County

RELATED: This is when COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5 could arrive

Cohen said those eligible for booster shots should not put it off and those who are not vaccinated at all should stay home.

“I imagine that many of you like me are frustrated to head into yet another holiday season under the shadow of this pandemic however there’s a major difference this year,” she said. “We have the strongest tools available to protect our health, vaccines."

They recommend anyone who is traveling wear a medical-grade mask because omicron is two to four times more contagious than delta. As cases rise, they’re expecting to see some breakthrough in people who are vaccinated. Experts say that does not mean that the shots are not working.

RELATED: Health officials say too few people are getting boosters as Pfizer pushes to expand eligibility

“Many people are going to get infected including some who are vaccinated, but the most important difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated is how sick you get. The evidence is clear that vaccinated and especially boosted people are so much safer,” Gov. Cooper said.

According to AAA, travel is up 35% from 2020 this holiday season. 

As many people are getting ready to see family and friends, doctors say the omicron variant is picking up speed.

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Millions of Americans take flights to see families and friends for the holidays. 

While travel is up this year, COVID-19 is still a concern for many. Medical experts are still trying to understand the new omicron variant's transmissibility and severity. Due to a rise in cases, the federal mask mandate for transportation had been extended through mid-March.

RELATED: CDC issues holiday safety recommendations

Many travelers WCNC Charlotte spoke to on Sunday said they were getting tested to feel safe around their families. 

"I came from college so I started COVID testing a week before every day just to make sure, and we got tested the day before we left," Elizabeth Marriet said.

The urgent care will be testing all week. CVS and Walgreens also have testing options available to schedule and a quick search led us to rapid at-home tests. 

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