Do you have to cancel your Christmas journey due to omicron? Listed here are 5 steps to remain wholesome throughout the holidays
The rapid rise in the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has surprised many. And now that Christmas is less than a week away, many families are asking themselves the same question: should we stay or should we go?
AAA’s most recent forecast said more than 109 million people would travel 50 miles or more for the end of the year holidays, including Christmas and New Years. That is 34% more than last year and only 8% less than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
And many more families planned to fly this year. AAA expected 6.4 million people to travel by air, nearly three times the number who traveled this way last year.
However, the advent of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has made many question their vacation plans, especially since there is more evidence that people vaccinated against the virus can still get the Omicron variant. On December 19, over 72,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported nationwide, according to the New York Times COVID tracker. The number of new cases rose steadily in December, and hospital admissions are also increasing.
““The truth is the safest thing about COVID is staying home when that is the only consideration.””
To avoid friends and family getting sick during this time of year – and vice versa – the most foolproof strategy would be to skip the vacation get-togethers and trips. But the decision on whether or not to implement these vacation plans isn’t that short and sweet, infectious disease experts said.
“The truth is the safest thing about COVID is staying home when that is the only consideration,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, Infectious Disease Physician and Chief Health Officer at the University of Michigan. However, after nearly two full years of a pandemic, avoiding COVID isn’t the only consideration given the impact the crisis has on people’s mental health.
“There is a big risk not to get together this year,” said Malani. “People have been isolated, and that is just as great a risk. You can manage the COVID risk through a layered approach. “
Here are the steps families should take before developing year-end plans to make sure everyone is safe and healthy:
Step 1: Get Vaccinated (or Boosted)
Public health experts broadly recommend getting vaccinated to protect against COVID-19, although it is possible that vaccinated people could get the disease from the Omicron variant.
“Whatever you’re up to will reduce the risk of the activities you participate in,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of the medical department at Mount Sinai South Nassau and spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America.
For those who were already fully vaccinated – i.e. they had both doses of Pfizer PFE, + 2.59% and Moderna MRNA, -6.25% vaccines, or the single dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine JNJ, -0.29% get – get strengthened over time is just as important.
While all three vaccines retain their approvals, Glatt advised that patients consider the two-dose mRNA vaccines whenever possible.
Step 2: review all possible health risks
For those who are fully vaccinated, the risk of developing a serious COVID-19 case is low, according to health experts. But as has been the case since the pandemic began, the risk varies depending on people’s health and lifestyle.
“Everyone has to decide for themselves which risk they want to take,” says Glatt. For example, people with weakened immune systems or other serious health problems should be extremely careful if they choose to attend holiday events that could increase the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.
But COVID itself isn’t the only reason to consider the potential health effects of travel right now. With the rise in hospital admissions for COVID, gaining access to health care for other conditions is once again becoming a challenge.
“God forbid you fall and break your leg – everything will be harder to take care of,” Malani said. Reviewing the status of medical facilities – both where you live and where you are going – should be part of the planning process.
Step 3: think about how you will travel
Some modes of transport inherently pose a higher risk than others, which could increase the risk of illness. For example, if you drive your family around for Christmas, you will be less exposed to others.
“Just taking a car with your immediate family that you’re exposed to all the time is not a risk from a COVID-19 perspective,” Glatt said, but added that driving itself can be risky. According to the National Safety Council, holidays have been linked to a higher rate of car accidents, causing injuries and deaths, all year round as the streets become more crowded and more people drive under the influence.
““If you only drive with your immediate family in a car that you are exposed in all the time, there is no risk.””
Health experts said that sitting on an airplane isn’t necessarily very risky. Passengers are required to wear masks, and the air filtration systems in airplanes remove virus particles from the air. Instead, the risk is what happens before and after you get on the plane.
“A taxi or that Uber ride – whoever picks you up could be someone who puts you in danger,” Malani said. Likewise, eating in the airport can be risky due to COVID. She recommended eating before driving to the airport if possible and at the gate to distance yourself from anyone who does not wear a mask.
Step 4: Make the right arrangements when you arrive
From a COVID-19 perspective, not all gatherings are created equal. Ideally, this family gift exchange or dinner takes place outdoors and at a distance. But that may not be feasible in colder parts of the country.
During larger gatherings, it is helpful to remain masked to prevent transmission. “So far I have personally used a surgical mask, but I have only ordered a few KN95s for family travel,” Malani said. In general, masks should fit snugly and cover both your nose and mouth to be most effective.
If everyone needs to eat indoors, health experts recommended spreading people out as much as possible and staggering them so that they don’t expose everyone in a tight space. For those who have access to rapid COVID-19 tests at home, testing everyone on arrival can be another way to avoid transmission.
Finally, make sure you set a standard for everyone who comes. One way to further mitigate the risk, for example, would be to limit exposure in the days leading up to the trip or meeting, Malani said by isolating as much as possible. If a family makes up their minds but has a cousin who has continued to go into unmasked rooms, they may want to withdraw that cousin’s invitation to keep everyone safe, Malani said. These types of difficult conversations could keep many people safe.
Step 5: Remember to get tested after your trip
After you return from your vacation, you may want to consider another COVID-19 test, but as with everything, it depends on your level of risk.
For someone who has simply traveled, stayed at a hotel, and attended a single masked meeting with their family, but did little else, routine testing isn’t required, Glatt said.
“But if that person went to a place where there was potential, significant exposure – they were indoors a lot, but other people weren’t wearing masks and didn’t know who the people around them were – then it certainly makes sense to yourself to have it tested, ”he added.
Post-travel testing could also be a smart move for people with pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk for a more severe COVID-19 case. That way, if someone tests positive, Malani says, they will be able to resort to treatments like monoclonal antibodies faster and, hopefully, fight off worse symptoms.