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December 7, 2021

Omicron and the holidays: 6 ways to stay safe

Daily Briefing

    World Health Organization (WHO) officials say the safety measures used to combat other Covid-19 variants throughout the pandemic should also adequately protect against omicron— but for the holiday season in particular, experts have offered six specific considerations for staying safe.

    The policies Biden and states could use to control the omicron variant

    Existing safety measures offer protection against omicron

    While much is still unknown about the new coronavirus variant—including its levels of transmissibility, virulence, and immunity evasion— WHO officials on Friday said existing safety measures should be able to combat omicron.  

    Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said, "The positive news in all of this is that none of the information we have currently about Omicron suggests we need to change the directions of our response."

    According to Babatunde Olowokure, WHO's regional emergency director, this means continuing to focus on increasing vaccination rates, following social-distancing guidelines, wearing masks, and implementing other measures.

    Olowokure also said health systems must "ensure [they] are treating the right patients in the right place at the right time, and so therefore ensuring that ICU beds are available, particularly for those who need them."

    "It is clear that this pandemic is far from over and I know that people are worried about Omicron," Kasai said. "But my message today is that we can adapt the way we manage this virus to better cope with the future surges and reduce their health, social, and economic impacts."

    "We cannot be complacent," Kasai warned.

    6 ways to stay safe as omicron spreads

    For the holiday season in particular, however—and as omicron cases continue to spread worldwide, with reported infections in roughly three dozen countries—experts have recommended people take steps to ensure their safety and limit the coronavirus' spread.

    For instance, Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University, recommends "invok[ing] the precautionary principle" this holiday season.

    And while vaccines and boosters should offer some protection against the variant, health experts are offering updated recommendations ahead of the holiday season, including:

    1. Wear a mask indoors if unvaccinated—or vaccinated with a higher risk of severe disease due to age or underlying health conditions.
    2. Wear an N95 (or legitimate KN95) mask—especially if high risk.
    3. Be thoughtful about travel plans (and consider testing both before departure and after arrival).
    4. Get a booster shot—especially if vulnerable.
    5. Follow safety guidelines during social gatherings, prioritizing vaccination, testing, and masking.
    6. Be cautious when dining indoors at restaurants. Assess the crowd, ventilation, and individual risk.

    Megan Ranney, a professor of emergency medicine and associate dean at the School of Public Health at Brown University, said, "None of us anticipate a return to 2020-style lockdowns. We have much more to prevent and treat the virus now. But bear with me—and with the other scientists, doctors, and public health professionals—as we try our best to walk the line between expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Advice may change, but we're doing the best we can, as quickly as we can. After all, we all were looking forward to a more normal holiday season, too." (AP/Politico, 12/3; Godoy, "Shots," NPR, 12/4; Ranney, CNN, 12/4)

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    We've updated our Covid-19 resource page to make it easier to find our top research and recommendations. Find the resources you need—when you need them, including:

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