Surefire Ways to Catch Omicron, Warn Experts
The U.S. continues to set records for new daily COVID-19 cases, as the super-contagious Omicron variant surges nationwide. "The margin of error with Omicron is much lower than with previous variants. Virtually every activity is riskier," warned Dr. Leana Wen in her Washington Post newsletter on Thursday. "In addition, in just about every setting, there is a much greater chance of encountering someone infected with the coronavirus." That's why it's important to be especially careful—in addition to ensuring you're fully vaccinated and boosted, experts say there are some things you should definitely avoid doing right now to avoid contracting COVID. 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.
Wear The Wrong Kind of Mask
In recent weeks, many health experts have advised that because Omicron is so contagious, cloth masks are no longer sufficient protection. "Masking can be helpful, but only if you're routinely using high-quality respiratory protection"—meaning an N95, KN95, or KF94 mask, said epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm on a recent episode of his podcast. "Cloth face coverings, even surgical masks, are nothing more than fashion statements," he warned. "They do not protect you in any meaningful way."
High-quality masks are now widely available online, but counterfeits remain a risk. To ensure the brand you choose is legit, consult the non-profit site Project N95, which recommends vetted, affordably priced masks.
Go To Large Gatherings
Experts agree there's one scenario you should avoid right now: The large indoor gathering. When you're in an indoor space, alongside many people from different households who are of uncertain vaccination status, your chances of contracting COVID rise significantly.
"When you're having such … a tsunami of infections—when we are seeing people who are vaccinated and boosted who are getting breakthrough infections—the safest thing to do is to be in a home setting, friends, relatives who you know are vaccinated and boosted," said Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN's New Day this week. "What you want to avoid are places where you have 20, 30, 40, 50 people, many of whom you have no idea of whether or not they're vaccinated or boosted."
Go To Indoor Restaurants or Bars
Since the beginning of the pandemic, studies have found that restaurants and bars are a major source of COVID transmission. Generally, you're sitting in a poorly ventilated area surrounded by people who are maskless (and potentially releasing viral particles into the air). "I would recommend patronizing your favorite restaurant by ordering takeout or delivery; by tipping a lot if you're able to support them," said Dr. Sara Cody, public health director and health officer for Santa Clara County in California. But "gathering indoors without a mask is not the safest way to be right now, with Omicron spiking as it is."
Go to Crowded Stores
Right after Christmas, faced with an Omicron surge in that country, Ireland's chief medical officer warned people to "avoid crowded places including retail environments" and advised shopping online "where possible."
Immunologist Leo Nissola, MD, seconded that advice to ETNT Health last week. "Avoid shopping at overcrowded stores," he said. "If you must buy in person, attempt to get what you need as soon as possible to avoid having to share your air with others. Wear a good quality face mask, maintain social distance and avoid huge groups."
Some experts advise postponing non-essential travel—particularly if it's overseas—for the moment. "If you had an essential trip that you felt was important, yes. But if you've got something that's non-essential, it just may be wise to wait a month or two," infectious disease expert Robert Kim-Farley, MD, told the Los Angeles Times last week.
One good reason: "If you get sick in a foreign country, it is a major bureaucratic hassle to get back," Robert Wachter, MD, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, told the Washington Post recently.
If you must fly right now, experts advise wearing a high-quality mask at all times in the airport and on the plane, choosing a window seat and business class if possible, and boarding last to avoid the crush of crowds.
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How to Stay Safe Out There
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.