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December 17, 2021

How omicron is affecting Americans' holiday plans—charted

Daily Briefing

    While the omicron variant is causing some Americans to rethink their holiday plans, a recent survey from STAT News and The Harris Poll has found most Americans, regardless of vaccination status, still intend to attend holiday events with friends or family.

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

    How omicron is affecting Americans' holiday plans

    For the poll, STAT and Harris surveyed 1,997 Americans between Dec. 10 and Dec. 12. They found that 74% of respondents, including 73% of vaccinated people and 76% of unvaccinated people, said they still intend to attend a holiday event with friends or family.

    And omicron isn’t keeping people from traveling for these gatherings. Regardless of vaccination status, about one-third of respondents said they would travel on a plane for the upcoming holidays, and nearly as many said they would fly internationally early next year.

    Additionally, most respondents said they still intend to dine indoors at restaurants, including 71% of vaccinated respondents and 72% of unvaccinated respondents.

    However, less than half of all respondents, regardless of vaccination status, said they are likely to attend a work holiday event.

    The poll also found that 78% of respondents said they intend to wear a mask while indoors in public areas, including 83% of vaccinated respondents. However, just 63% of unvaccinated respondents said the same.

    And while there were notably different responses from Republicans and Democrats on whether they intend to wear masks inside public places, the poll found relatively similar numbers of Republican and Democrat respondents who said they are likely to dine indoors at a restaurant or attend a holiday event with friends or family.

    Should you gather for the holidays?

    Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, said omicron's rise doesn't have to mean your holiday plans change, but it's important to consider your risk.

    "Think about your vaccine as a very good raincoat," she said. "If you are going out into a drizzle, you're probably going to be well protected and not get wet. But if you're going into a thunderstorm, there's a higher chance of you getting wet, despite that very good raincoat."

    Wen added that it's important to consider factors like the level of infection in the communities of your loved ones and whether your loved ones are taking other precautions like wearing masks and avoiding crowds.

    "A third thing I would look at is how vulnerable are you, the person making this decision, and the people in your immediate household?" she said. "If you are fully vaccinated and you've got your booster and you're generally healthy, the chance of you having a breakthrough infection that lands you in the hospital is relatively low."

    Social dynamics are also important to consider, said Roseann Capanna-Hodge, a psychologist. For example, if you're hosting the gathering, you have more leeway to dictate the environment, she said.

    "What is the host doing? What boundaries are they setting? Why are you going to Uncle Bob's house where nobody believes in vaccines? They don't even think [Covid-19] exists," Capanna-Hodge said. "That's not really a great choice."

    How to gather safely

    The safest holiday gathering is one in which everyone is fully vaccinated and, if they're eligible, boosted as well. In that instance, attendees are not at high risk of severe Covid-19 and can celebrate maskless, said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

    However, while vaccinated people tend to live with other vaccinated people, "I think once you start adding in extended families … mixed vaccination status would become pretty common," said Jennifer Beam Dowd, a demography and population health professor at the University of Oxford.

    How safe a gathering is depends on how much the coronavirus is spreading in the community, whether everyone wears a mask inside, and what ventilation is like, according to Joshua Barocas, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

    Barocas recommends keeping unvaccinated and half-vaccinated children away from unvaccinated adults during gatherings, especially in communities with high transmission rates. And unvaccinated children should spend a limited amount of time in close proximity to vulnerable loved ones, Dowd said.

    There are certain precautions that can be taken at holiday gatherings to mitigate risk, experts said. "The safest thing to do is be outdoors," Wen said, with people using masks to go inside to use the bathroom.

    However, if the weather won't accommodate an outdoor gathering, asking attendees to reduce their infection risk as much as they can three days before the event can help mitigate risk, as can taking rapid Covid-19 tests the morning of the event, Wen said.

    "Understand that risk exists, especially if there are unvaccinated individuals in an area of the country with high coronavirus transmission," Wen said. (Silverman, STAT News, 12/16; Holcombe, CNN, 12/15; Strum/Gutman, The Atlantic, 12/15)

    The omicron variant: The 'good,' 'bad,' and 'ugly' scenarios


    Since the news broke about the omicron variant, Advisory Board's Pamela Divack and Andrew Mohama pondered America's coronavirus future: What are the (relatively) "good," "bad," and "ugly" scenarios? In this piece, they've updated and mapped out the possibilities. 

    Read more

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