For those traveling during the holidays, Austin Public Health officials said it will be important to take COVID-19 safety precautions, including testing, wearing masks and getting vaccinated, including receiving boosters when eligible.

The omicron variant has added an additional level of caution as officials said it is likely to reach Austin.

“This virus has spread exponentially in South Africa; it's doing the same in the U.K.; and we're likely to see the same thing locally,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority, during a Dec. 10 press conference.

Walkes added APH continues to recommend receiving vaccinations as a defense against the omicron variant.

“This vaccine has been shown to be effective at protecting people from severe disease, illness and hospitalizations and death for the delta variant, which is the predominant variant in our community now, and early indications are that it is also going to be protective against this new variant, omicron,” Walkes said.

In a Dec. 7 press release, APH reported a surge in vaccinations during the week ending Dec. 4. The 5,157 vaccinations, 84% of which were booster shots, were its highest weekly total since the week ending May 15.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration broadened eligibility for booster shots Dec. 9 by granting authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds to receive their booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. APH is now equipped to begin administering those doses, said Cassandra DeLeon,  APH’s chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion.

“If you are looking to getting your 16-year-old boosted and 17-year-olds boosted, you can definitely come to any one of the Austin Public Health locations and receive that booster dose,” DeLeon said.