LITTLE ROCK, Ark – Hospitals in Little Rock are pleading with the public to remain safe with a possible surge in COVID-19 cases this holiday season.

Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Friday confirmed cases of the Omicron Variant in Arkansas. Doctors at UAMS say the variant has the potential to spread twice as fast as the Delta Variant.

“Estimates are that it’s increased from one person can infect 8 to one person can infect anywhere from 12 to 16,” Dr. Robert Hopkins with Internal Medicine at UAMS said.

Right now, Hopkins says UAMS is averaging only about 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations but says he fears the rapid spread of Omicron could change that.

“We’re just waiting for the next shoe to drop,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins says he is expecting more cases and hospitalizations after the holiday break.

“Our biggest challenge is not so much can we wedge in a few additional beds here and there, it’s more about people,” Hopkins said.

Right now, UAMS says they are averaging about 400 vacancies. Before the pandemic that number was closer to 100-150 vacancies. Hopkins says there is concern another surge could put more strain on the healthcare system and push more nurses and doctors out the door.

“We are short enough respiratory therapists, nurses, and doctors. We don’t need to lose people now. We need all hands on deck,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins says the solution to the surge will be in the hands of the public. UAMS is asking people to get their vaccines and boosters if they can before the holiday.

Mia Waymack drove down from Fayetteville to visit her family. She got the booster shot Monday.

“It’s just kind of the right thing to do,” Waymack said. “I have aging family members and I’d like to be with them for the holidays.”

Healthcare professionals are hoping more will do the same. UAMS also suggests, if possible, holiday activities should be limited and held outside to mitigate any spread.

UAMS says they hope they can get ahold of the new variant before things get worse.

“There’s always a possibility that things will get to the point where surgeries will have to be restricted, there’s the possibility that we will get to the point where we cannot accept additional patients in the hospital,” Hopkins said.