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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

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Minneapolis and St. Paul to require vaccine or test for indoor dining

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

New vaccine-or-test requirements for indoor dining and drinking in Minneapolis and St. Paul take effect Wednesday.

The big picture: A growing number of major cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York, have instituted similar requirements in an effort to protect public health.

Yes, but: Questions about enforcement, logistics and effectiveness of the temporary measures here remain.

Updated 5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.