Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, much is changing, but one thing is clear: The virus isn’t going anywhere, and we must adjust to this new normal. But it can be done, one step at a time. As we face a holiday season that coincides with the rise of the Omicron variant, this is what top experts say are essential items on the new checklist for avoiding COVID infection. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Get Vaccinated and Boosted
On NBC Nightly News Thursday night, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease experts, said that people who are fully vaccinated and have gotten booster shots should feel safe about gathering with loved ones this holiday season. “Vaccination is going to make the difference,” he said. “I’m a family member, I’m vaccinated, I’m boosted. My wife is vaccinated, she’s boosted. My children are coming in by plane from all different parts of the country. They are vaccinated and boosted. So we can feel very comfortable in having our plans to be together as family in our home, with some friends who are also boosted and vaccinated. And I feel we can feel safe.”
He added: “Nothing is 100% risk-free.”
Noted Dr. Leana Wen in her Thursday newsletter for the Washington Post: “With the Delta variant, individuals who are fully vaccinated are six times less likely to carry COVID-19 compared to the unvaccinated. With Omicron, emerging data show that vaccination and boosting will help protect against symptomatic infection and thus transmission.”
Choose “Two Out of Three” When Gathering
This week, Wen offered new guidelines for safe indoor gatherings: “Choose two out of the following three to substantially reduce risk — vaccination, masking and testing,” she said.
Each one of those safety measures reduces risk of COVID infection on its own; you can layer additional protections in situations that may involve greater risk of coronavirus exposure (or severe consequences for the vulnerable).
“All indoor settings should have at least one of these mitigation measures,” she advised. ” In some situations, one out of three may be sufficient. For example, you might forgo masks and testing when having dinner with a small group of fully vaccinated friends who are all pretty careful in their daily exposures.”
But what if you want to host a holiday party or attend a work event with dozens of people? “Given high community infection rates, and to protect vulnerable people in attendance, you should opt for two out of three,” said Wen. “If there’s no food being served, require vaccination and masks. If you plan to have food and drink, or do not wish to have masks, replace masks with same-day, rapid testing.”
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Wear a High-Quality Mask in Public
In the early days of the pandemic, experts advised wearing cloth masks to guard against the virus. Since then, two things have changed: More contagious variants have emerged, and studies have found that cloth masks block only a fraction of the particles that surgical masks do.
Your best bet, experts say, is to wear a high-quality mask. That means an N95, KN95 or KF95, which can block up to 95 percent of virus particles. The next-best option is to wear a three-ply surgical mask.
“I wouldn’t advise for anyone to wear a cloth mask at this point, as they are so ineffective,” said Wen.
The CDC recommends that everyone should mask in public if their local area is experiencing “substantial or high” COVID transmission. As of now, that means more than 90% of the U.S.
Invest in At-Home Rapid Tests
Keeping some at-home rapid COVID test kits on hand is a good idea, experts say. Testing yourself before social gatherings or travel can help blunt the spread of the virus and keep your loved ones safe—particularly if you’re planning to visit with people who are vulnerable to severe COVID-19. The tests cost around $20 for a pack of two; the Biden administration has announced a plan to require insurance reimbursement after the first of the year. You can also contact your local health department to see what free testing options are available in your area.
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How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don’t travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.