If You're Vaccinated, Don't Gather Amid Omicron Without Doing This First

The new COVID variant has changed the advice of virus experts ahead of the holidays.

A year ago, people were advised not to gather for the winter holidays because the coronavirus is able to spread much more easily indoors. But with effective vaccines now available, health officials like top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, have already given their blessings for holiday celebrations to take place this year. Many have taken advantage of their newfound freedom, with millions of Americans having traveled to join family and friends for Thanksgiving. That was before news of a concerning new variant emerged, however. The Omicron variant has already been detected in 30 states, according to The Washington Post, and research indicates that it has both heightened transmissibility and the ability to partially evade vaccine protection. Now, officials and experts are making some amendments to their recommendations for gathering this winter with the threat of Omicron looming.

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Warns Vaccinated People Not to Do This as Omicron Spreads.

Michael Mina, MD, an epidemiologist and former assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, recently took to Twitter to warn that COVID testing even just one to two days before an event "doesn't work" anymore, especially given the current spread of the Omicron variant. According to Mina, you should be testing just a few hours before gathering with others, even if you and everyone else is vaccinated.

"Regardless of test, you can go from undetectable to very high viral loads in a 24-hour period," Mina tweeted on Dec. 8.

This type of warning comes as new research from the U.K. Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) showed that people who get infected with the Omicron variant might become infectious more quickly than COVID-positive individuals did with previous versions of the virus.

Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London and head of the Zoe COVID symptom app, told The Guardian on Dec. 12 that officials are seeing even more infections pop up after social gatherings thanks to the Omicron variant, likely because the variant's "transmission time is very short."

"Certainly, compared to the Delta variant, we're seeing more of these multiple infection events. Delta didn't seem to affect everyone at an event–just one out of six vaccinated people might get ill then," he said, adding that he also is advising people attending a gathering take a rapid test "a few hours before leaving the house," rather than a day or more before.

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Some experts have expressed concerns with the credibility of rapid antigen tests, particularly in ruling out a COVID infection. But according to Mina, these fears are unfounded. "Antigen tests work with Omicron," Mina said in a tweet on Dec. 12. "It doesn't matter the type of test, the most important thing is to test just before the event of participation."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also lists rapid, at-home tests as one of the country's "many risk-reduction measures" in protecting you and those around you from spreading and getting infected with COVID. "You can use self-tests, regardless of vaccination status, or whether or not you have symptoms," the agency states on its website. "Consider using a self-test before joining indoor gatherings with others who are not in your household."

Testing too early has been something the CDC has started advising against more strongly. On Dec. 2, the agency revised its guidelines for international travel to shorten the timeline required for testing. Instead of vaccinated travelers being able to test three days before arriving to the U.S., they must now test negative within one day of their departure.

"As we learn more about the Omicron variant, this new one-day testing policy will help to protect travelers and the health and safety of American communities from COVID-19," the CDC stated in an announcement at the time. "These orders put in place a stringent and consistent global international travel policy that is guided by public health."

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Warns Vaccinated People Not to Gather Before Doing This.

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