CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – With the new omicron COVID-19 variant detected in 19 states, South Carolina health officials are working to monitor the strain.

Dr. Jane Kelly is the South Carolina Assistant State Epidemiologist. She said DHEC has increased their surveillance when it comes to looking for new variants and new cases.

She told News 2, this effort includes increasing the availability of at-home tests.

The omicron variant has also prompted some new changes when it comes to traveling.

As of Monday, updated travel restrictions are in place for anyone entering the U.S., despite vaccination status.

Travelers must provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day before their return flight, instead of three.

With these testing requirements, Dr. Kelly said it’s important for travelers to plan ahead.

“That can be a challenge in some countries, obtaining that test,” said Dr. Kelly. “It would be worthwhile to make sure that they’re going to be able to obtain a test at that other location so they can return home.”

Here in South Carolina, Dr. Kelly said the department has increased communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about international travelers.

According to DHEC officials, they have collaborated with the CDC to identify all international travelers who are arriving from a country or area with COVID-19 transmission.

Officials said those travelers are then sent a letter or email with testing recommendations.  

According to Kelly, omicron became the predominant variant in South Africa, in a very short period of time. She said the Department anticipates the same thing will eventually happen in South Carolina. So far, there are no detected cases in the state.

As of right now, Dr. Kelly said there is no evidence that shows omicron causing more severe illness. However, she said evidence does show getting vaccinated and getting a booster will prevent severe disease.