COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The first day of winter is quickly approaching and with the holidays here, health officials want to make sure Ohioans are taking extra COVID-19 mitigation precautions while also taking advantage of the tools now available that weren’t around last year.

OhioHealth Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Joseph Gastaldo said it’s tempting to want to return to normal activities with certain health measures lifted, but wants to remind people we are still very much in the COVID-19 pandemic. He said although 50 percent of Ohio is vaccinated, the state is still lagging behind the national average.

“The message I give to people is to really understand the tools that are out there,” Gastaldo said. “When it comes to getting together, in a private gathering, it can be done in a safe manner.”

If you are going to take part in a holiday gathering, Gastaldo encourages you to consider taking an at-home COVID-19 test, which are available free at Columbus’ library branches.

“Depending on what you’re doing, another layer of protection is to get testing done before you’re in a large crowd of individuals,” he said.

Gastaldo said the vaccines are also readily available, something that wasn’t the case last year.

For those who have been vaccinated, he wants to remind them to get a booster for extra protection, especially as the state is still seeing high levels of transmission from the delta variant, and now the first cases of the omicron variant being discovered in the state as well.

“The omicron variant is behaving like it’s more transmissible, meaning people grab it or its more contagious,” he said.

Lastly, masks have been proven to be effective in mitigating the spread of the virus, with Gastaldo encouraging people to continue wearing them as well as practicing good hygiene.