Dec. 22, 2021 -- Amid rising cases of the contagious Omicron variant, family members should test for COVID-19 before gathering for the holidays even if everyone who attends is vaccinated and boosted, says CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD.
“You’ve heard me say before: We know what works against COVID-19, and it’s critically important we implement our proven multilayer prevention strategies,” Walensky said at a White House briefing on Wednesday. “Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial and high-risk community transmission, and take a test before you gather.”
The Omicron variant skyrocketed from 3% of COVID-19 cases in the United States to 73% in a week, the CDC reported.
Walensky said that number has grown to around 90% in some Eastern Atlantic states, parts of the Midwest, the South, and Northern Pacific states.
The rapid increase in domestic cases mirrors what health authorities have seen worldwide, with Walensky noting that the speed of transmission is as expected. Given that, the widespread nature of the Omicron variant means a potentially dangerous holiday season that should be approached with caution, she said, and the most important thing is that people gathering take as many precautions as possible.
“Holiday gatherings and risk of travel really has less to do with the airplane or car ride, and much more to do with how people from different households behave in the weeks to days before meeting up,” Walensky said. “Importantly, consider gathering with family and friends who are also practicing similar proper prevention measures.”
Walensky also stressed the importance of getting fully vaccinated and boosted. Those who are unvaccinated have a 10 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and a 20 times greater risk of dying from the virus than those who are vaccinated with a booster, she said.
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients also reported that the Biden administration has pre-purchased 10 million courses of Pfizer’s antiviral drug, which was approved for emergency use by the FDA on Wednesday, as well as 3 million courses of Merck’s antiviral medication, which is expected to get the FDA’s green light in the coming days.
Some of the monoclonal antibody treatments have been deemed ineffective for treating Omicron, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the briefing. Still, new research out of Scotland aligns with data from South Africa that indicates milder disease from Omicron than other variants.
Fauci echoed Walensky’s recommendation to test ahead of the holidays, adding that indoor family gatherings should be small.
“An extra level of protection would be the testing,” he said.