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With the highly infectious Omicron variant sending coronavirus cases soaring to unprecedented levels, California’s winter surge has entered another perilous phase, prompting renewed calls by health officials to dial back celebratory plans and avoid crowded settings over the New Year’s holiday weekend.

The warnings come as the nationwide number of newly confirmed coronavirus infections roared to a record high and hospitalizations in California and elsewhere continue to increase.

Though officials said preliminary evidence was increasingly showing Omicron causes less severe illness than the still-prevalent Delta variant — especially for otherwise healthy people who have been vaccinated — the number of people getting infected has raised alarms as officials work to shore up hospital capacity and ensure other vital services aren’t interrupted.

“We know the Omicron variant is airborne and highly transmissible, and that a combination of colder weather, indoor gatherings and holiday-related household mixing would likely result in an increase in cases,” officials with the California Department of Public Health said in a statement.

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