Crowds of Charlotte residents are expected to hit restaurants and bars across the city for New Year’s Eve celebrations this weekend, as well as a college football bowl game at Bank of America Stadium on December 30. But those people should think twice about their plans, one Charlotte doctor warned December 28. The latest variant of COVID-19, Omicron, is extremely contagious, Atrium Health infectious disease expert Dr. Katie Passaretti told reporters.

“For everyone, I would encourage people to reconsider their New Year’s Eve plans,” she said. “If they’re in indoor settings in particular.” 

That warning is especially true for unvaccinated people, people with weakened immune systems or elderly people, she said.

At least two New Year’s Eve events have already been canceled due to rising COVID-19 cases. VBGB Beer Hall and Garden and its neighbor from the same owners, 8.2.0 Event Space, each announced on Instagram last week that their party at 8.2.0 was canceled. 

NoDa Company Store also told followers on Instagram that it was canceling its New Year’s party, but would remain open during its regular hours, saying: “There’s just too many spikes in Omicron for us to be able to have a (responsible) Ball with you guys.”

The city of Charlotte’s plans, however, are moving ahead. Mayor Vi Lyles will help lead Charlotte’s countdown to 2022 starting at 8 p.m. as the city’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration returns after a year off due to COVID-19. The free event in uptown will feature music, food trucks and fireworks on South Tryon Street at Levine Avenue of the Arts. 

The “good news” with Omicron is that data suggests the variant causes less severe disease and is less likely to result in hospitalization than other COVID-19 variants, Passaretti said. Still, the high transmissability of Omicron will likely lead to an increase in hospitalizations in those most susceptible to severe cases of the coronavirus, she said.

Cases of the Omicron variant are now widespread across the country. As of Christmas day, over 58 percent of new cases nationwide are Omicron, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among Southeast states, the region that includes North Carolina, over 78 percent are the new variant.

Across the country, COVID-19 tests have become hard to find as cases climb. And lines in Charlotte were no exception. In fact, at least one testing site in Charlotte ran out of rapid tests one day last week, StarMed Healthcare reported on Twitter. Christmas week marked StarMed’s highest ever volume of COVID-19 tests, with close to 19,000 tests, CEO Michael Estramonte said on Twitter Monday.

Roughly 13.5 percent of those tests were positive for COVID-19, he added. In Mecklenburg County, the most recently reported positivity rate for county residents was 10 percent as of December 21. 

That means the county is a long way from dropping its mask mandate for indoor gatherings at public spaces. The county will drop the mask order once it reports seven consecutive days of a positivity rate below five percent. 

The timing of the surge in COVID-19 cases is “sub-optimal,” Passaretti said. That’s because as Omicron cases surge, the country is also seeing an increase in influenza infections and other respiratory viruses. She encouraged Charlotte residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, get the COVID-19 booster doses and continue following social distancing guidelines.

This story appears courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer.