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SAN DIEGO – For many, this holiday season was supposed to be the one where we could gather again. But facing surging COVID-19 case numbers and a highly contagious variant, those plans have been dampened some by an extended pandemic.

While public health officials are finding the omicron variant less dangerous than other strains of the virus, it’s believed to be more contagious and is driving up case numbers across the country. In San Diego County, officials Thursday reported 5,976 daily infections, a new single-day record since the pandemic began.

That has officials urging San Diegans to scale down their New Year’s Eve gatherings.

Some such as Vaivhav Chugh plan to heed the advice of doctors and will ring in the new year at home.

“We just have a couple of friends who are going to come over,” Chugh said. “All of us are vaccinated. We want to be really careful because we saw the omicron cases go up really, really high the last couple of days. We take the minimal risk while also having fun during the holidays.”

Jeffrey Haile and his friend visiting from the Bay Area plan to lay low Friday night, too.

“I think we want to try to avoid getting COVID,” Haile said. “I already had some family members who traveled over Christmas that got it and I’d like to avoid that if possible.”

There are dozens of NYE celebrations planned around the county and so far there have been no mass cancelations. Event organizers like RMD Group are still planning New Year’s Eve celebrations. Parties at Lumi, Rustic Root and Hard Rock get the advantage of being outdoors.

But with crowds still expected to gather to celebrate, health officials warn the omicron variant has what is called “exponential spread.”

“If you have one person, for example, and that one person transmits it to two people, and those two people transmit it to two other people, it can rapidly grow out of control,” said Dr. Kristi Koenig, EMS medical director for San Diego County.

Koenig said hospitals are “very stressed” due to staffing shortages and an increase of non-COVID emergencies. This may be caused by people putting off routine medical check-ups and procedures.

“They become sick enough that they require emergency care because they didn’t take care of their high blood pressure or diabetes or their heart issues,” she said.

She adds some hospitals near full capacity are diverting ambulances which happens a few times a month.

“Then the ambulances have to divert from hospitals, drive farther distances and that means they are less available to take new 911 calls,” Koenig said. 

If you are planning to hang out with people you don’t live with, county health officials give the following advice:

  • wear proper masks;
  • limit indoor hangouts especially if not everyone’s vaccination status is known
  • stay home and get tested if you have symptoms and isolate until you get a negative test; and
  • isolate and follow local, state and federal guidelines if you test positive for COVID-19.