| Credit: Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

State health officials are reinforcing South Carolinians to stay the course on protecting themselves against COVID-19 in light of a new strain found in South Africa.

After identification of the new omicron strain of the coronavirus over the holiday weekend, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) released a statement encouraging South Carolina residents to get vaccinated and those eligible receive booster shots in preparation for a potential new wave of infections.

“In keeping with our responsibility to protect the health of every South Carolinian, the DHEC team is proactively preparing for any potential threats posed by Omicron and is already testing for it,” the statement reads.

Though no cases of have been identified in South Carolina, as the weather cools and infections of previously identified variants increase, it becomes more likely for new variants to gain a foothold. Information regarding the severity of illness and transmissibility of the variant compared to others like delta are still foggy, and new information is being gathered daily, according to the statement.

The omicron variant is not yet listed on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of Variants of Concern.

DHEC officials say the best course of action for residents is to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and receive the follow-up booster shot when eligible. Health officials and national leaders are also urging indoor masking regardless of vaccination status to prevent the spread of disease to others.

“Vaccination is the best to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, and the quickest way to end this pandemic,” the statement reads. “DHEC strongly encourages South Carolinians ages five and older to complete their COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible and get their booster shot once they are eligible.”