SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As we count down the days until Christmas, health experts offer a word of caution: COVID-19 is still here and part of our December. The reminder that COVID-19 remains present was part of Dr. Charles Chima’s message on Tuesday in front of the Sioux Falls City Council.

“So as of today again to summarize, we have about 63% vaccinated, we believe that number will slightly be higher,” said Chima, who is the director of public health for the City of Sioux Falls.

Tuesday’s message includes a familiar theme.

“If someone asked today what is the primary thing that I can do to keep myself, my family safe in anticipation of this variant becoming the dominant variant in the next few weeks, this remains the single most important thing that you can do is to make that decision, get vaccinated, get boosted,” Chima said.

Councilor Rick Kiley gave Chima a prospective scenario.

“‘I’ve had COVID, so I do not need the vaccine,'” Kiley said.

“That’s a genuine concern, and the logic is understandable,” Chima said. “However, the evidence and the data shows that immunity from natural infection is unpredictable.”

Chima reiterated that vaccines offer the best protection. Councilor Curt Soehl asked him to look ahead.

“Is this a trend we’re going to see that there’s going to be a next variant and it’s more transmissible,” Soehl said. “What do you see coming down the road?”

Chima answered that that’s how viruses are.

“The only way we can get out of all this cycle of new variants … is by continuing to push vaccinations not just at home but globally as well,” Chima said.

COVID-19’s continued presence is unwelcome. But it’s reality.

“I observed this morning with my wife that we’re going into the second holiday season worried about COVID, and it’s very disheartening,” Soehl said.

“COVID is not done with us yet, it’s still in the community,” Chima said. “We have a new variant, and we just need to remain cautious.”

The latest data from the South Dakota Department of Health says that 239 people are hospitalized with COVID-19.