SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Omicron variant. Some people have decided to rethink holiday plans or how they go about their daily lives.
KPIX 5 spoke with three infectious disease experts to get a better understanding of how they'd feel about partaking in certain activities: Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, from UCSF; Dr. Jorge Salinas, from Stanford; Dr. Arthur Reingold, from UC Berkeley.
Editor's Note: These responses are as of December 21, 2021.
WOULD YOU TRAVEL?
Chin-Hong: "I have no problems traveling right now, personally. I haven't seen my mom for quite a while - she lives in New York. For sure, at the minimum, I'd wear a well-fitted surgical mask, or double mask."
Reingold: "Given that I'm fully vaccinated and boosted, and pretty good about my mask wearing, the answer is yes. But there are many other people, who for a variety of other reasons, would feel substantially less comfortable. For example, if I were traveling with an 18 month old who was too young to be vaccinated and couldn't wear a mask, I might feel differently about it. If I had a lot of underlying conditions, I might feel differently. Or, if I was then going to stay with somebody with a lot of underlying conditions or a young infant, I might feel differently about it."
Salinas: "I would definitely re-evaluate my travel plans and my plans for gathering with people here in the holidays."
WOULD YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE EATING INDOORS AT A RESTAURANT?
Chin-Hong: "Right now in the Bay Area, I do feel comfortable, but I think that window is closing. I feel comfortable for several reasons. First of all, I'm vaccinated and boosted. If it's not a super crowded restaurant and the ventilation is good - I have to think about ventilation these days - I think there's a window or a period where I still feel comfortable. I don't have any immunocompromised or elderly people at home in my San Francisco circle, so I feel okay with that level of risk right now."
Reingold: "You can't eat and drink without taking off your mask, and you don't know who else is in the restaurant and what their infection status is. So, I think that is a somewhat riskier behavior, and I'm not doing that at the moment."
Salinas: "I would not do it, but I know that some people may prefer to do it. But to some degree, what we have going on is a debate as to whether you should focus on your individual risk tolerance versus what is the risk tolerance for society as a whole."
WOULD YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE GOING TO A HOLIDAY PARTY?
Chin-Hong: "At this point, I'd feel a little bit queasy about going to a holiday party with unknown people in the room, for example, a work party, with one caveat. If there is rapid screening as an entry into that holiday party, I'd feel a little bit safer. If the holiday party were outdoors during the day, I'd feel even safer. But, an indoor holiday party, even with people I know from multiple households, even if they're vaccinated, if there's no testing as a screening to get into that party, I'd feel a little bit nervous."
Reingold: "If you mean a large party with lots of people from work, or friends, or acquaintances, or whatever - where there are foods and beverages being served and you have to take your mask off to partake in those, then probably not, no."
Salinas: "I would not attend a holiday gathering. I know ways in which you could make it safer, but my recommendation and my request to people is to seriously consider your holiday gatherings. Of course, there are special situations. But if you are going to gather, there are certain measures that you can take that will make it less risky. One of them is ensuring that everyone present is boosted. Ensuring everyone wears masks as long as possible during the gathering. Gathering in a well-ventilated space. Having a small number of people in the gathering. And, if you can, add that extra layer of protection provided by a rapid antigen test moments before the gathering starts.
While they all had slightly different takes on the questions above, all three doctors stressed the importance of people getting vaccinated and boosted.
"Do everything you can to not get infected in the coming weeks," Salinas said. "The more we limit socialization in the next couple of weeks is going to shape up how our January looks. We're going in a trajectory that is not looking good."
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