Staying safe as omicron variant threatens holiday season

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — The omicron variant of the coronavirus is emerging as the holiday season kicks into gear, threatening to cancel plans for a second year.

Health experts have stressed now is not a time to panic, but stepping up safety measures is a good idea for those traveling or attending holiday gatherings.

Should I get tested before traveling or gathering for the holidays even if I’m vaccinated?

Dr. Carrie Horn, chief medical officer at National Jewish Health, said testing can provide an additional level of security.

“I would say if you’re going to be gathering with people who may be immune-compromised or otherwise at risk of severe illness from COVID — it’s probably worth testing just for that extra sense of security that you aren’t harboring a low-grade, asymptomatic illness,” said Horn.

In-home rapid tests are available but come with drawbacks and are not as reliable as a PCR test.

“If there is a chance of it being positive you need to have a PCR test done right away to confirm before attending gatherings,” said Dr. Jaya Kumar, chief medical officer at Swedish Medical Center.

Should I require holiday guests be vaccinated or get tested?

Horn said she recommends everybody attending a gathering be vaccinated, but understands the conversation may shift depending on family dynamics. She said knowing your guests’ vaccination status can help protect those who are high-risk.

“It’s really important to know or for them to have that sense of security that everyone at the gathering is taking health into account,” Horn said.

Should I upgrade to N95 or KN95 masks while traveling during the holidays?

“The recommendation for facial covering or mask-wearing remains the same regardless of variants that are circulating,” Kumar said.

According to Kumar, that means a standard facial covering should be adequate while traveling or attending functions during the holiday season.

Should I still get a booster even though it’s unclear how the vaccine will stack up against omicron?

Doctors agree a booster shot can still provide some level of protection against all coronavirus variants, though the level of protection against omicron, specifically, is still being studied.

“It is a very new variant and we don’t know enough about it. Rather than panicking about it we should just focus on the original tactics and strategies we had deployed for protection against COVID-19 illness,” Kumar said.

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