WASHINGTON, DC – As families prepare to gather for Christmas next week, health officials are warning Americans to stay cautious.

The CDC says COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging at an alarming rate.

As NewsChannel 34’s Anna Wiernicki shows us, they’re blaming the highly transmissible omicron variant.

As the number of COVID-19 infections surges across the country, the White House COVID Response Team told Americans to not let COVID-19 spoil their holiday.

“This is not a moment to panic.”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says 39 states have detected the omicron variant as it spreads across the country at an alarming rate.

“We believe it to become the dominant strain in the United States as it has in other countries in the coming weeks,” says Walensky.

Dr. Walensky says most omicron cases are mild and many people who contract the virus show little to no symptoms.

“And we believe these cases are milder or asymptomatic because of vaccine protection,” says Walensky.

White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci says new data shows two shots provide only some protection against omicron.

“the optimum protection is fully vaccinated plus a boost,” says Fauci.

To prepare for a surge in cases in January, the Biden Administration also unveiled a “test to stay” strategy that aims to keep students in school.

“If exposed children meet a certain criteria and continue to test – they can stay in school instead of quarantining at home,” says Walensky.

Under the policy, children will be required to be tested at least twice in the seven days following their exposure.

The CDC says it is working with schools that choose to implement this policy to avoid any absences or closures in the new year.