Dec 21, 2021 - Health

What to do about Omicron over the holidays

Illustration of virus cell with question marks around it
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As Americans prepare to gather this holiday season, health care experts say even the boosted will still need to be careful, thanks to Omicron.

The big picture: With vacations planned, hospitals already overwhelmed and a stunningly transmissible new variant that can even cause breakthrough infections in the boosted, experts fear record cases, hospitalizations and deaths are on the horizon.

What they're saying: "I would start to take added precautions," Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner and current Pfizer board member, told CNBC.

  • "That doesn't mean you can't gather safely, but if you're going to do it in a setting with people who are at risk from this virus, you really need to do things like testing and make sure you're not introducing an asymptomatic infection into that setting," Gottlieb said.

Here's a look at some of the advice experts have for gathering safely this holiday season.

If you're invited to a restaurant: "I tend to avoid indoor restaurants and would while Omicron is rising," Andy Slavitt, President Biden's former senior adviser for coronavirus response, told Axios in an email.

If you're going to a gathering: Consider COVID testing ahead of time, particularly around high-risk loved ones. If using rapid tests, which are less sensitive than PCR tests, it's more valuable to take the test as close as possible to the time you'll be gathering, Gottlieb said.

  • "I would do serial testing if you can. Pull more than one test if you really want to be cautious," he told CNBC. "These tests are more likely to register a positive result — they get more sensitive — when you do serial testing over a short period of time.

If you think you've been exposed to COVID: "You shouldn't use a rapid test if you have a high index of suspicion that you've been infected," Gottlieb said. In that situation, go get a PCR test and isolate.

If you're boosted and asymptomatic, but get a positive COVID test: "You should absolutely not be around other people. That is irresponsible and harmful to other people," Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University and Bellevue Hospital, told Axios. "Don't be that superspreader."

If you've tested positive and are now isolating: "You should stay away from other people and I'd say wait a minimum of five days and then you can retest at about five days with a rapid test," Gounder said.

  • "If you test negative, then you can come out and socialize again. If you continue to test positive, you should still remain in isolation."
Go deeper