BATON ROUGE, La. (KTVE/KARD) — Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has announced he will extend the state’s public health emergency due to the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus.

According to the governor’s office, given the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which has now become the dominant strain in the United States and in Louisiana, state agencies in the Governor’s Cabinet will begin requiring masks of employees and visitors.

“While vaccines and booster doses are the strongest tools we have in the fight against COVID, public health experts also agree that masks are an important way to slow the spread of the Omicron variant now. This means you should be masking indoors around people who aren’t in your household,” Gov. Edwards said. “While it is concerning to still see rising cases, as President Joe Biden noted earlier today – we have come a long way since March 2020. Around 50 percent of Louisianans have already been vaccinated and are much more protected against COVID than they have ever been. The more than 460,000 Louisianans who have already taken a booster dose have even stronger protection.

“Now more than ever it is important that everyone get vaccinated or, if they are eligible, take a COVID booster. The vaccines are safe, effective and widely available all across Louisiana, and we know from the most recent CDC data that unvaccinated people are ten times more likely to test positive for COVID and 20 times more likely to die from COVID than fully vaccinated people who also have gotten their booster shots,” Gov. Edwards said. “Simply put, one of the riskiest things you can be in Louisiana right now is unvaccinated. You’re signing up for the potential of severe illness, hospitalization or something even worse. We have seen how previous COVID surges have torn through our state and none of us wants to go back to the days of August and September, when thousands of people were hospitalized and dying.”

The governor’s office says that many people are vaccinated, but only about a quarter of those who are eligible for a booster shot have received one. They went on to say that a Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot increases antibody levels 25-fold against Omicron and early data shows a Moderna booster shot can increase antibody levels 37-fold against Omicron.

In addition to the Governor’s public health order, the Louisiana Department of Health on Monday issued revised recommendations and guidance for Louisianans during the holiday season, particularly if they are traveling. These include getting vaccines and boosters, masking indoors around people who aren’t in your household and getting tested regularly. In addition, any person who has COVID symptoms should get tested and stay in quarantine to avoid spreading illness to others.

People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea. People with COVID-19 symptoms should stay home and get tested.

There are COVID-19 test sites throughout Louisiana. Visit ldh.la.gov/covidtesting or call 211 to find a test site near you. As a reminder, all community-based sites operated by the Louisiana National Guard will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Click here to read the Governor’s order.