By Maria Cid Medina

SAN CARLOS (KPIX 5) – The omicron variant surge that health experts predicted would hit California has arrived, according to the state’s data, and it comes just as millions of families and friends are expected to gather for the holidays.

“I think it’s going to get probably even more intense in the week to two weeks coming,” said University of California San Francisco Prof. of Medicine Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.

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In just one week, COVID-19 cases in California more than doubled with nearly 11,000 new confirmed cases as of Tuesday compared to about 5,400 cases last Wednesday. Dr. Chin-Hong said although more Californians are testing, the positivity rate is climbing because of more widespread transmission.

“I think given the experience in South Africa and in the UK that there are real cases increasing,” he said.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant also quadrupled from 49 cases last week to nearly 200 cases on Wednesday.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference that more than 50% of positive cases that had been sequenced have been identified as the Omicron variant.

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But this holiday season is much different than last December when cases as well as hospitalizations and deaths surged.

Now vaccines, boosters and testing are available. Americans feel more confident about being out and gathering.

“My plans for the holidays have changed only slightly in terms of maybe the size of the group,” said Chin-Hong. “I’m making sure everyone is vaccinated and or boosted in an indoor setting. I’m still engaging with life and I know as a boosted person, and even if I was just vaccinated and not boosted, that I will be protected from getting seriously ill. That confidence hasn’t really wavered with Omicron.”

The country’s artillery just got its own boost as well on Wednesday when the Food and Drug Administration gave Pfizer emergency authorization for use of its antiviral COVID-19 pill for those at high-risk.

“We should be so excited about this pill for so many reasons,” Chin-Hong said. “First of all, it democratizes treatment, and take it out of the realm of the hospital system, to the community.”

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced expanding hours at state test sites, including offering millions of students’ free tests before returning to the classroom after winter break.

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On Tuesday, President Joe Biden promised to open more test sites as well and also announced that he would provide Americans free at-home COVID-19 tests at the beginning of the year. A half billion tests would be sent to the homes to those who ordered them online, he said.