Winona County COVID infections are at one of their highest levels of the pandemic, and state and local health officials are urging people to get vaccinations and booster shots to protect against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

“The highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Wisconsin and is anticipated to cause a rapid increase in disease activity in the coming weeks,” Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) officials wrote on Monday. “There is a serious risk that continued, increased numbers of COVID-19 cases will overwhelm an already strained health care system, leading to dangerous situations where patients experiencing medical emergencies may not be able to receive immediate, adequate, life-saving attention and care due to lack of hospital capacity.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that Omicron is quickly replacing Delta as the dominant strain in the U.S. Based on early data, the agency believes it is more contagious than previous variants, though the jury is still out on whether it causes more severe disease. The BBC and Associated Press report, citing a U.K. model, that un-boosted vaccinations may be much less effective against the new variant, but with boosters, vaccines are still 80 percent effective at preventing serious illness.

“We’re seeing infections are climbing and definitely a lot of community spread right now,” Winona County Emergency Manager Ben Klinger said last Friday. “Continue following the mitigation strategies from the CDC and MDH [Minnesota Department of Health],” Klinger encouraged area residents. “We should be wearing masks indoors, keeping apart when possible. Meet in more open areas, places with more ventilation … The biggest thing, the number one thing people can do to mitigate it is get vaccinated. If it’s been six months since you’ve been vaccinated and you’re 16 or older, get a booster.” For recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, boosters are recommended after two months.

In Winona vaccines are available at Winona Health, Gundersen Health System, Hy-Vee Pharmacy, and most pharmacies. Winona County Public Health will host a vaccine clinics at Cotter High School’s Cecilia Commons, 1115 West Broadway (enter on Seventh Street) in Winona, on Wednesday, Dec. 22, from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Visit to sign up. More information about vaccines and where to find them is available on

In Winona County, there were 304 new COVID cases this week, according to MDH, one of the highest levels ever. Five county residents were hospitalized for COVID last week, the CDC reports. Two Winona County residents, both in their late 60s, died from the virus, MDH reported on Monday. They were the fifth and sixth deaths in the county since November.

Infections are not quite as high in Trempealeau and Buffalo counties, where there were 117 and 81 new cases this past week, respectively, according to DHS. The state reported last Thursday that two more Trempealeau County residents died from the virus.