A sharp rise in coronavirus cases, partly fueled by the new Omicron variant, has health experts urging New Year’s gatherings to be toned down.
Partygoers can still hold parties indoors, but they would be safer if they were smaller, with guests who have been fully vaccinated and given a booster, officials say.
Larger gatherings can be held outdoors more safely, but people should still mask up in crowded environments, whether indoors or outdoors.
Here are some tips from experts and health officials for staying safe on vacation:
Avoid eating at indoor restaurants
A week ago, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco, said that as a healthy, vaccinated person who received a booster shot, he would feel fine in a covered restaurant.
But soaring case rates changed his mind, and Chin-Hong said on Tuesday he would not eat at an indoor restaurant at this time.
He said he’s not worried about being hospitalized with a breakthrough infection or dying from COVID-19, but Chin-Hong doesn’t want to risk being sidelined from work during a busy time at his hospital. .
“If I’m not there, then someone else has to do my job,” he said.
Dr. Sara Cody, director of public health and Santa Clara County health officer, also suggested avoiding indoor restaurants. The daily rate of coronavirus cases tripled in Santa Clara County — Northern California’s most populous county — in the past week.
“I would recommend frequenting your favorite restaurant ordering takeout or delivery; tip a lot if you are able to support them. But congregating indoors without a mask is not the safest way to be right now, with Omicron’s peak as it is,” Cody said Tuesday.
She recommended restaurants and bars require customers to be up to date with their vaccinations.
It will be safer to eat at restaurants where everyone is required to show proof of vaccination, as is the case in cities like Los Angeles, West Hollywood, San Francisco and Berkeley, said Dr. Robert Kim- Farley, medical and infectious epidemiologist. disease specialist at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
Kim-Farley, 73, said he had stopped eating at covered restaurants in light of the Omicron surge. Healthy young people in their 20s or 30s who are vaccinated and boosted could dine indoors in places that aren’t crowded without being as concerned about the risk of serious illness or death, he said. . But they should be aware that there is an increased risk of breakthrough infections with Omicron compared to the Delta variant, and an infection could be contagious, he warned.
They should also consider whether they live with older parents or grandparents, who would be at higher risk if the virus were passed to them.
Unvaccinated people should not go to covered restaurants; the risk of infection is just too high, Kim-Farley said.
“It will ultimately come down to people’s risk tolerance of what they want to do,” he said.
Consider eating outdoors instead
Chin-Hong said he was confident about the safety of outdoor dining: “I’m not afraid of the outdoors at all.”
Host a small New Year’s Eve party
Cody said she wouldn’t recommend New Year’s Eve celebrations unless they were small.
“Small intimate gatherings are the way to go this New Year. Now is not the time to go to a large gathering,” she said. “The only exception would be if you’re going to be spending the entire meeting outdoors and have great cold weather gear…enjoy a New Year’s Eve outdoors.
“But at this point it’s just not safe to congregate with large groups of people indoors, especially if people are taking their masks off,” Cody said.
Cody suggested that if you’re gathering indoors — even in your home — with more than 10 people outside your household, “we really urge you to keep your masks on.”
Kim-Farley also advised against crowded New Year’s Eve gatherings indoors, especially where people might be singing and dancing nearby.
Watching fireworks outside would be a safer activity, but he suggested people still wear masks in crowded outdoor settings.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top medical adviser, has advised against large gatherings.
“If you’re planning on going to a 40-50 person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everyone hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy new year, I would highly recommend that this year we don’t do that,” Fauci said. “We think you should continue to make those plans to have a home gathering, vaccinated and boosted, with your family and close friends who are also vaccinated and boosted.”
Take a quick test before a rally
Gathering attendees should take a rapid coronavirus test as soon as possible before an event.
“Testing promotes early detection and reduces the likelihood of an individual spreading the disease unknowingly,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, Orange County Deputy Health Officer.
Even for a modest gathering, Chin-Hong said he would prefer everyone to be tested beforehand.
“It just seems like I might get a better indicator of how infectious people are by doing a quick test, if I can get them,” Chin-Hong said.
It is important to take a quick test just before the start of the event. Getting a PCR test that requires sending a nasal swab or saliva sample to a lab, with results coming back in a day or two, will produce results that are too old to be useful. A person may not be infectious when the sample is taken, but may be infectious a day or two later when the event has started.
“If I had a group of 10 inside, and everyone was tested quickly and everyone was boosted, I would feel very comfortable, not even necessarily with a mask on,” Chin said. -Hong.
In this scenario, he said that even if a child under the age of 5 who was too young to be vaccinated was present, he would feel comfortable. But if there were multiple unvaccinated children from multiple households, “I would probably worry about that.”
If you’re hosting a gathering indoors, opening windows and getting HEPA air filters can further reduce the risk, experts say.
And if you’re unable to get rapid tests and decide to go ahead with a party, people can get tested three days after the event.
Reduced New Year’s events
The New Year’s Eve countdown celebration in downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Park moved to streaming only after park officials said it was too risky to gather in person. The event will be broadcast, with a countdown projected on the Town Hall.
A fireworks display is always scheduled for the Long Beach waterfront at midnight, and local merchants suggest people make reservations at downtown restaurants to see the show.
But San Francisco canceled its New Year’s Eve fireworks display along the Embarcadero. “By canceling the New Year’s Eve fireworks display, we are reducing everyone’s exposure to COVID-19 while ensuring the continuity of public safety operations across the city,” Mayor of London Breed said in a statement. a statement.
The Rose Parade, however, is set to return. “All the planning we have done has positioned us well to be able to host the Rose Parade in a safe and healthy manner,” said David Eads, Executive Director of the Tournament of Roses.
The Tournament of Roses requires the more than 6,000 parade participants, including floats, marching bands and riders, to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event.
As of Monday, just over 90% had provided proof of vaccination, Eads said.
Parade spectators aged 12 and over in paid areas, such as the stands, will also be required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours. Ticket holders aged 18 and over will be required to provide photo ID, and all attendees aged 2 and over in these areas will be required to wear a mask.
Along the rest of the 5.5-mile route, where people can just walk and watch, vaccinations and negative test results will not be checked.
Flights, holidays and congresses
Kim-Farley suggested people rethink vacations, like a getaway to Hawaii, given the amount of coronavirus circulating. Although transmission is probably not particularly likely during the flight itself, there is a risk during other parts of the journey.
“If you’ve done essential travel that you consider important, yes. But if you have something that isn’t essential, it might be wise to wait a month or two because we’ll see that peak and we’ll see it. back down,” Kim-Farley said.
People who test positive at, say, a resort in Hawaii would have isolated themselves there, potentially extending their stay.
As for conventions, organizers can make them safer, by spacing out attendees, requiring mask-wearing and proof of vaccinations, and improving ventilation, as was done at a recent meeting of health experts public in Colorado. Organizers can also make virtual attendance an option.
“That doesn’t mean that [the meeting is] totally safe, and people are going to have to make those decisions,” Kim-Farley said.
Skiing and snowboarding are quite safe; these are outdoor activities and many participants wear masks.
The risk is going to crowded indoor spaces, such as lodges or restaurants, to eat. It would be safer to take food and eat outside, Kim-Farley said.
Times writers Hayley Smith, Hailey Branson-Potts, Jonah Valdez, Anumita Kaur, Lila Seidman and Hugo Martín contributed to this report.