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ST. LOUIS — The delta variant of COVID-19 is still the dominant strain in St. Louis, but healthcare experts are fearing the omicron variant could spread even faster as people travel for the holidays. 

“I think it’s made things a little bit dicey are in terms of traveling in large gatherings,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, BJC Healthcares’ chief medical officer.

Dunagan, who is also the co-leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said data indicates the omicron variant is a lot more transmissible than even the delta variant.

“There’s no question that it does have some properties that help it evade immune responses to vaccines than prior strains of Covid,” Dunagan said.

Dr. Dunagan said so far, the St. Louis area has only seen one case of the Omicron variant in someone who traveled from another area. He said in the meantime, hospitals are already filling up, which is putting a strain on already tired staff, and backing up elective procedures. 

“Hospitals are pretty stressed right now. They’re very full. We have a lot of patience, not just Covid patients, but other routine healthcare needs,” Dunagan said.

The task force reported 12 people died on Thursday from COVID-19, which is the highest single-day total since September. The task force also reported 130 patients are now in the ICU, which is also as high as September. 

“If you celebrate the holidays, celebrate the holidays. Keep distances, wear masks when indoors, and try to move family gatherings outside if the weather permits,” said Christopher Ave, director of communications for the St. Louis County Health Department.

Ave also urged people to get vaccinated if they haven’t already, and to get the booster if they are vaccinated, before enjoying the holidays. 

“I would say that there is indication out there that the booster can very much help you against Omicron. So, I would urge you and others like you — if you haven’t gotten boosters yet, to not wait any longer,” Ave said.

Experts said to keep wearing masks and get tested, especially if you are traveling. 

Late Thursday afternoon, a CDC advisory panel approved language recommending the mRNA vaccines — such as Pfizer and Moderna — over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for adults.