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Health Experts Push Boosters As Omicron Variant Spreads Ahead of Christmas

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- With Christmas just a week away, many people are left wondering if they will be able to safely gather with family and friends.

Health experts are really stressing the importance of vaccinations and boosters for protecting against the omicron variant.

As travelers at San Francisco International Airport took to the skies for the holidays Sunday evening, some are staying grounded in the city.

"I actually canceled all of my plans to go back to the Midwest because that's where I'm from, and so I just saw I think at the end of November, when omicron officially got recognized by the WHO, I was like there's no way it's going to be chill to return home," said Caleb Fous of San Francisco.

UCSF infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong says so far evidence shows that symptoms appear as soon as 3 days after exposure with the omicron variant, which is faster than they normally would with the delta.

"If you're vaccinated and boosted you have the best chance of any, but it's not a hundred percent proof," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "Again, I think we have to up our game on just additional protection strategies, that includes wearing a better mask, in crowded indoor situations in particular."

Dr. Chin-Hong said hospitalizations at UCSF remain low - currently there are less than 20 people at all of UCSF's facilities fighting COVID.

"It's probably going to hit early in 2022 in the Bay Area if not sooner in terms of large numbers of people, it's already here of course and it's widespread in California," he said.

Dr. Chin-Hong said right now, omicron is moving very fast through the UK and the East Coast.

"For Christmas party, you don't know all the vaccination statuses of people around you and there's no testing, it's probably going to be a little bit risky," he said. "Even if you know everyone's vaccinated, it may be risky because you don't know who's boosted."

On Sunday the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said there is no indication that the omicron variant causes more severe illness, even as it appears to be more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus.

"I'm from Thailand actually, so I was going to go home for the break, but I decided not to with everything going on, also there's a quarantine there," said Gemy Sethaputra of San Francisco.

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