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How to handle the unwelcome holiday visitor

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While the Thanksgiving holiday was extra merry and bright this year as celebrations returned to normalcy, news of a new coronavirus variant has dimmed some of the sparkle of the rest of the holiday season.

With plenty yet to learn about the omicron variant, Stanford University infection disease physician Dr. Abraar Karan suggests “we should invoke the precautionary principle.”

Megan Ranney, MD, MPH, professor of Emergency Medicine and associate dean at the School of Public Health at Brown University, agrees. “While we wait for data, basic protective measures are still your best bet.”

So what exactly are those preventative recommendations as we look ahead to the next few weeks of holiday celebrations? A blend of tactics we’re now long familiar with, plus tools that were not readily available last year.

“If ever there was a reason for the people who were vaccinated to get boosted, and for those who were unvaccinated to get vaccinated, it’s now,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor.

Ahead of gatherings, consider a rapid test as close to ‘party time’ as possible. “Those rapid tests are only good for about six to 12 hours so they’re just a snapshot in time, but they can help right before that party,” says NBC News’ senior medical correspondent Dr. John Torres.

As far as masks go, experts consensus is that “you should be wearing masks [indoors] if you are at higher risk of severe disease because of your age or underlying health conditions,” with high-quality N95 or KN95 masks something to consider.

“The bottom line is this,” says U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, “We do know that the measures that we take to protect ourselves from the spread of COVID, including wearing masks in indoor spaces, being in well ventilated spaces, those work well and will work against Omicron.”

This holiday season we can enjoy the gift of hindsight, knowledge, and new technologies that will all enable us to prevent infection and celebrate more safely.