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The #1 Worst Thing You Could Do Right Now, Say Virus Experts

Listen to doctor advice and avoid these mistakes right now.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

The discovery of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has dominated headlines for more than a week. Its severity and potential impact are still unclear. But COVID cases are rising across the country, largely because of the same old story: the Delta variant spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated. But experts warn that even if you've received a COVID vaccine, some common mistakes could put you in harm's way in the coming weeks. These are the mistakes that doctors —from the front lines in hospitals across the country—say you should avoid right now. 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.

5

Thinking The Pandemic Is Over

Woman throwing away her mask.
iStock

This week, some areas of the U.S. are reporting the highest number of hospitalizations they've seen in a year—and that's due to the Delta variant, not Omicron, whose transmissibility and impact are yet to be determined. Doctors in some states say their hospital beds are full or nearly so. "We are really close to the maximum [number] and I don't think we are at the peak yet. So I think this will be the highest we've ever seen with COVID," Dr. Ragu Adiga, chief medical officer at Liberty Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, said on Monday.

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4

Not Wearing a Face Mask, Even If You're Vaccinated

woman shopping at grocery store for snack food
Shutterstock / Ekaterina Pokrovsky

"If you were concerned about Delta—whatever you were concerned about last winter, is exactly how you should be now," Dr. Mark Jaben, medical director of Haywood County, North Carolina, told WLOS yesterday, after COVID cases there doubled in one week. "It's time to pivot and go back to being super careful, whether you're vaccinated or not." For example: The CDC advises wearing a face mask in public in areas where there is "substantial or high" community transmission of COVID-19—which as of today includes 90% of the U.S.

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3

Not Getting a Flu Vaccine

Influenza vaccine vial with syringe
Shutterstock

"I want to draw attention to the dangers of the flu, which I think may cause more harm this winter than we are prepared for," wrote Kent Sepkowitz, MD, a physician and infection control expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, on CNN.com yesterday. He fears a "twindemic" this winter in which the flu and COVID cases skyrocket, which both hospitals and individuals are ill-prepared to face: 15% of Americans have had COVID, which often causes lung damage and could make recovery from the flu more difficult. 

"It's possible that Americans who were infected with Covid-19 sometime in the last two years and who get the flu this season could develop more severe disease," wrote Sepkowitz. "Taken cumulatively, this could lead to more hospitalizations and deaths, which could place a squeeze on medical professionals as well as available hospital beds and respirators and lead us back in the direction of the nightmare of the first months of Covid-19."

Your move: Get the flu vaccine ASAP, if you haven't already.

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2

Not Getting Fully Vaccinated Against COVID

Check-in for coronavirus vaccination against Covid-19 with doctor in the background.
Shutterstock

On Tuesday, Dr. Thomas Rohs, chief medical officer of Borgess Ascension Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan, said that another wave of COVID-19 is building, and medical personnel there are exhausted. "The pandemic is seriously damaging our ability to take care of all of our dedicated, generous caregivers," he said. 

The single most effective thing you can do you can do is get vaccinated, he added. "And, know this, everyone in North America is either going to get vaccinated, or you're going to get COVID," said Rohs.

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1

Not Getting A Booster Shot

Woman getting COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Shutterstock

The effect of vaccines and booster shots against the Omicron variant is still being studied. But according to current data, booster shots have been highly effective at reducing COVID risks so far. According to a Tuesday report in the Colorado Sun, between September and November, people in that state who got a COVID booster shot were:

  • 2.4 times less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than people who had been fully vaccinated but had not gotten a booster shot
  • 9.7 times less likely to test positive for COVID than unvaccinated people
  • 3.3 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people who had been fully vaccinated but had not received a booster
  • 47.5 times less likely to be hospitalized after contracting the disease than unvaccinated people

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6

How to Stay Safe Out There

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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.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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