AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Millions of Americans are expected to pass through TSA checkpoints to travel for the holidays despite the growing threat of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
The latest CDC guidance was updated on Dec. 9 to include more details on what people should do if they were exposed to COVID-19, but are already fully vaccinated, to include getting a test 5 to 7 days after exposure and wear a mask in public settings. However, fully vaccinated individuals do not need to quarantine alone at home after an exposure if they are not experiencing any symptoms or test negative.
Nexstar also spoke with Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston for further explanation on the latest guidance.
Q: Can I keep my holiday plans if I was exposed to COVID-19 but am fully vaccinated and feel okay?
A: The general guidance is if somebody is fully vaccinated, had an exposure, is feeling fine and tested negative around 5 to 7 days after their exposure, I think it’s still reasonable for them to travel. Certainly wear a mask and follow all the other guidance and everything like that.
Q: What if I am unvaccinated and get exposed to COVID-19, but feel okay?
A: If somebody is unvaccinated, they really should quarantine even after just an exposure.
Q: What is the timeline for when I should consider myself exposed, if I was recently around someone who tested positive?
A: From the moment they start having symptoms, usually the general recommendation is you go back sort of 2 days before then — for 48 hours from before the time they started having symptoms — is when this clock starts for when they could be infectious. And then if you theoretically had any close exposures from that point forward, then those would potentially count as contacts.
Q: What should I do to make sure my family and I are safe for holiday gatherings?
A: Ultimately if folks are going to choose to do that, the most important thing folks can do to keep everybody as safe as possible is to try to ensure that everybody in your group is vaccinated and boosted and things like that. And then the other thing to consider is if you’re going to have a group together, is whether you sort of want everybody to get a rapid test done by themselves at home.
As the omicron variant quickly spreads throughout the United States with a replication rate 70 times faster than the delta variant, Dr. Kulkarni says it is extremely likely we begin to see more breakthrough cases, even with folks who are boosted. Kulkarni emphasizes the difference in outcomes for those who are vaccinated and boosted, versus those who have no protection.
“The odds still go down. If you’re vaccinated, you’re less likely to transmit, even though you if you get COVID, and you’re vaccinated,” he said. “I can’t emphasize this enough, in terms of avoiding a bad outcome, in terms of hospitalization and or death from COVID — vaccination is our best way to do that. And the vaccines are highly effective, even against omicron. If you get your doses recently, it is very effective at preventing those things.”
According to the latest CDC data, here is the difference in COVID-19 case numbers, per 100,000 people:
—Unvaccinated: 451 positive cases out of every 100,000
—Vaccinated: 134 positive cases out of every 100,000
—Boosted: 48 positive cases out of every 100,000
Here is the difference in deaths from COVID-19, based on vaccination status, per the CDC:
—Unvaccinated: 6 deaths per 100,000 people
—Vaccinated: 0.5 deaths per 100,000 people
—Boosted: 0.1 deaths per 100,000 people
“If you look at who’s ending up in the hospital or who’s potentially dying as a result of COVID, it’s still disproportionately and predominantly unvaccinated people,” Kulkarni said. “So I really want to emphasize that even if somebody is fully vaccinated and or boosted and happens to get a COVID, their chance of a bad outcome is much, much lower.”