The Louisiana Department of Health has issued COVID-19 holiday guidance as omicron variant cases mount and hospitalizations tick slightly upward since last week.

Unlike the COVID-19 delta variant, omicron has been associated with relatively mild symptoms to date, according to many health officials, but the new variant’s transmissibility has proved a cause for concern for state health leaders.

“CDC estimates that Omicron is now the dominant COVID-19 variant in the United States and in Louisiana’s region," State Epidemiologist Theresa Sokol said. “It is startling how quickly this happened, but it is not surprising.”

New Department of Health guidance is urging vaccinations, including boosters, and recommending masks when indoors, as well as regular testing regardless of vaccination status.

“While getting the vaccine protects you from a severe outcome, a vaccinated person can still transmit the virus to others,” the guidance states.

The Department of Health said masks should be worn in all indoor public settings and added people also should consider wearing masks in private settings.

“Masks are effective in protecting infection against all of the currently circulating variants,” the guidance reads.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Dec. 3 there were no known cases of omicron in Louisiana. As of Dec. 17, the Department of Health reported 124 known cases – with few, if any, involving hospitalizations. New data is expected to be released Wednesday.

State health officials also have said omicron cases are likely to be much higher in number given that every case cannot be identified. “Outbreaks” have been found in universities, K-12 schools and nursing homes, according to the Department of Health.

“Two weeks ago, 35% of parishes were at ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ risk of COVID-19 spread in the community, a categorization based on a community indicator classification system developed by the CDC,” a Monday statement said. “Last week, 65% of parishes fell into these two highest-risk categories.”

The statement added the department expects the majority of parishes in Louisiana to lodge substantial or high community risk levels this week.

Edwards and State Health Officer Joseph Kanter have urged an abundance of caution but not panic.

“The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in Louisiana. You can help stop the spread by getting tested if you have symptoms, if you've been exposed, or if you plan on traveling or attending a large gathering,” Edwards said Tuesday on social media.

“We now know Omicron is here in Louisiana,” Kanter said previously. “We have been expecting and preparing for this moment.”