FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – As the omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads throughout California, other Central Valley counties are preparing for its arrival.

Fresno County’s Department of Public Health has identified only one person so far with the omicron variant. That person had been vaccinated and received a booster. The person was a traveler returning to Fresno County, was not hospitalized, and remains in isolation at home.

Health officials say it was only a matter of time until the first case of the omicron variant made its way to Fresno County – and that announcement prompted nearby health authorities such as Tulare County’s not to rule out the possibility that the omicron variant is already there.

“Just because we haven’t detected it yet, we don’t want everyone to have a false sense of security, we urge everyone to remain vigilant,” says Carrie Monteiro with Tulare County’s Health and Human Services Agency.

According to the Fresno County Department of Public Health, a little over 54% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. Epidemiologists like Dr. Erika Pan from the California Department of Public Health say it is now more important than ever to follow the safety protocols and get vaccinated.

“Omicron has a lot of mutations, it has more mutations than any of the other variants we’ve seen, so a lot more than delta, and we know it’s much more infectious,” says Dr. Pan.

In Madera County, health officials say there’s a slow and steady increase in vaccinations, but they are preparing for the possibility of a winter surge that can change that. Therefore, the use of masks, getting vaccinated, or the booster continues to be the best safeguard against covid-19 and its variants.

“We really encourage people to wear masks in group settings and in public, especially if you’re not aware of people’s vaccination status,” says Director of Public Health for Madera County, Sara Bosse.

When it comes to vaccines, Dr. Pan says unvaccinated individuals are 12 to 13 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 versus those who are vaccinated.

“What’s really important is vaccines are preventing people from going to the hospital or deaths,” says Dr. Pan.

With Christmas just days away, local health officials highlight the importance of keeping gatherings small, wearing masks, and getting vaccinated to see loved ones.