CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Governor Roy Cooper and the COVID-19 Task Force spoke on Monday urging North Carolinians to get tested ahead of the holidays during a news conference from Raleigh’s Emergency Operations Center.

“With holiday gatherings, COVID cases beginning to rise and a new highly contagious variant on the way, it’s important everyone takes steps to protect themselves and their families,” Cooper said. “With every vaccine dose, we get closer to turning the tide of sickness and death brought on by this pandemic.”

Incoming health secretary Kody Kinsley also spoke.

“Testing before you gather can help slow the spread of Omicron,” Kinsley said. “And if you test positive, quickly seeking out treatment can help reduce the risk of severe disease.”

Current Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen was also in attendance. Dr. Cohen said this variant is four times worse than the original COVID-19 virus.

“This is a moment to act. We can keep people from becoming really sick and make sure there is hospital care for everyone who needs it. Early evidence shows that boosters provide a significant level of protection against Omicron,” Cohen said. “I urge everyone who has been vaccinated to get your booster soon as you are eligible. Getting a booster is particularly critical for people who are 65 and over or with underlying medical conditions.”

North Carolinians have been keeping an eye on the infection rate, which state health officials say if it drops to 5 percent, then they’ll lift the mask mandate.

Unfortunately, the data keeps trending in the wrong direction, going as high as 8.7 last week and currently stands at 7.9 in Mecklenburg County and 7.8 statewide. The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in North Carolina was found in a student at UNC Charlotte earlier this month.

Moderna says booster significantly raises level of antibodies to thwart COVID-19 omicron variant

Booster shots are now available for anyone over the age of 16. Currently, 1,584 patients are hospitalized. Sixty-nine percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

Reported State Hospital Capacity and COVID Patient Impact: HHS Protect Public Data Hub

On Monday, Moderna said its booster offers protections against the rapidly spreading omicron variant. Moderna said lab tests showed the half-dose booster shot increased by 37 times the level of so-called neutralizing antibodies able to fight omicron.

Also on Monday, StarMed announced it will have its west Charlotte location open on Christmas Day.