Just when many people thought they were in the clear to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, a new version of the virus emerged. The Omicron variant is spreading faster than any other iteration of the virus, even the highly transmissible Delta variant. On Christmas, the U.S. averaged a rate of around 201,000 daily COVID cases, which exceeded the average number of infections during Delta’s deadly summer peak, per data from The New York Times. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the country’s highest peak in COVID infections overall occurred in Jan. 2021, right after the 2020 holiday season—which has health officials worried about the month to come. With that in mind, virus experts are giving new advice to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people ahead of New Year’s Eve.
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During a Dec. 27 interview on CNN’s New Day, top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, warned against large gatherings for New Year’s Eve this year because of the Omicron variant. According to Fauci, it’s fine for people who are vaccinated and boosted to gather inside with family members who are also boosted. But both unvaccinated and vaccinated people should steer clear of large New Year’s parties.
“When you are talking about a New Year’s Eve party, where you have 30, 40, 50 people celebrating, you do not know the status of the vaccination. I would recommend strongly, stay away from that this year,” he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. “There will be other years to do that but not this year.”
Other virus experts have said that you should do a personal risk assessment when choosing how to celebrate the new year, especially if you were planning to throw a party yourself. “You have to ask yourself: What is your tolerance for someone at the party getting infected?” Ashish K. Jha, MD, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told The New York Times. “If your tolerance is zero, then you cannot have a party.”
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Fauci’s advice for New Year’s is similar to what he said prior to Christmas. During a Dec. 22 White House COVID Response Team press briefing, Fauci and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, explained that the safest way to celebrate the upcoming holiday was to be vaccinated and boosted, and to gather solely with others who are as well. But Fauci also warned at the time that even being boosted is not enough protection against large gatherings amid Omicron.
“I want to make sure this is not confused with going to a large gathering—and there are many of these—parties that have 30, 40, 50 people in which you do not know the vaccination status of individuals. Those are the kind of functions—in the context of COVID and particularly in the context of Omicron—that you do not want to go to,” he noted.
While some may have canceled their holiday plans, many Americans attended large gatherings and a post-Christmas surge is expected to follow. CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner, MD, told the news outlet on Dec. 26 that it’s likely the country will “see half a million cases a day sometime over the next week to 10 days.”
“We’re certainly going to continue to see a surge [in cases] for a while,” Fauci told Collins.
RELATED: Dr. Fauci Warns Vaccinated People Not to Do This When Gathering.