With the increase in coronavirus caseloads due to the spreading Delta and Omicron variants, CBS News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook discusses the precautions to be taken at end-of-year gatherings to better ensure a safe holiday season.
Let's face it: We're all fed up with COVID. And, there's more uncertainty ahead.
Like many doctors, I'm often asked how to stay safe. The answer is: the more layers of protection, the smaller the risk.
As a quick reminder, the layers are:
- Vaccination (including a booster if you're eligible);
- Masks (the better the mask, the better the protection);
- Keeping a distance from the next person;
- Washing your hands;
- Getting COVID tests; and
- Improving ventilation and air filtration (remember, the virus travels through the air).
So, is it safe to get together with friends, indoors, if no one will be wearing a mask?
I'll answer the question with a question: What is your tolerance for risk?
Mine is very low. I would feel reasonably comfortable taking off my mask indoors with friends under three conditions:
First: everyone must be vaccinated, and that includes a booster. Vaccine effectiveness can weaken over time, and boosters increase protection against variants like Delta and Omicron.
Second: anyone who feels the least bit sick should stay home. That includes mild symptoms that seem to be from a cold or allergies.
Third, I'd want everyone to take a home antigen test immediately before getting together. It's very good at telling you if you have enough virus in your system to infect somebody else within the next several hours. The test is such an important tool to help limit spread, I think it should be free.
Other considerations are the number of people in the room; I wouldn't want it to be too crowded. There should be good ventilation – open the windows and doors, and consider using an air purifier.
Of course, no COVID protocol is perfect, and we've all heard of breakthrough Delta infections in people who are fully-vaccinated and boosted. It's important to note that for them, the risk of winding up in the hospital or dying has been much lower than for unvaccinated people.
It's still early, but public health experts expect that will also be the case with the Omicron variant. So, get vaccinated! Even people who have already recovered from COVID will benefit from vaccination.
It appears Omicron may be less likely than other variants to cause severe illness. But it's also been spreading more rapidly. So, if large numbers of people become infected, hospitals could fill up again, and the healthcare system could become overwhelmed.
Despite the challenges, I'm optimistic. We have treatments that work, and more are in the pipeline. There's. But one accomplishment stands above the rest: the vaccines. I've been vaccinated and I've had a booster, and it's the best insurance policy I own.
I know that despite all my best efforts, I could still become infected, especially given what's happening with Omicron. But it's very unlikely I'll get seriously ill. That gives me great peace of mind.
So, my closing thought for anyone who is eligible but not yet vaccinated is this: why take an unnecessary risk when it comes to your precious health?
And for everyone, here's to a happy and healthy 2022, and beyond.
Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: Ed Givnish.
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