SAN DIEGO – Facing yet another pandemic surge, Americans this week are left rethinking their holiday plans as the new omicron COVID variant has become the dominant version of the virus in the country.
“This is a variant that has really upped the ante,” Sharp HealthCare Family Medicine Dr. Abisola Olulade said. “It’s doubling every two to three days and is possibly the most contagious coronavirus that we have ever seen.”
Federal health officials reported Monday the variant accounted for 73% of new infections last week. The alarming rise comes less than a month after officials in South Africa raised concerns about omicron, leading the World Health Organization to designate it as a “variant of concern.”
But as the variant rages across the U.S., California health officials reinstated the state’s indoor mask mandate — largely coming amid a spike in cases following Thanksgiving — and toughened up restrictions for unvaccinated residents attending indoor “mega-events” of 1,000 people or more. The new mask mandate runs through Jan. 15.
There’s still much to be learned about omicron, but researchers say it’s generally showing up with cold-like symptoms, including runny nose, headaches and fatigue, among others.
Olulade said “everyone at this point is at some amount of risk” for exposure to the variant and urged people to get vaccinated against the virus.
“It will be much safer if you were vaccinated and the people around you were vaccinated as well,” she said.
For the unvaccinated, Olulade said they should consider canceling plans to travel or gather for the holidays. She also warns most scientists studying coronavirus believe everyone eventually will be exposed to the omicron variant.
“It’s a matter of when and not if,” Olulade said. “Very, very concerning because delta already was one of the most contagious respiratory illnesses that we know of and it’s really shocking that this has happened in such a short period of time. It should be concerning to everyone.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of recommendations for those planning to gather for the holidays. They include:
- Get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible;
- Wear a well-fitting mask that covers your nose and mouth;
- Keep 6 feet of distance from those who don’t live with you;
- Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces;
- Consider a self-test before attending an indoor gathering; and
- Wash hands often with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer when appropriate.
Trying to decide whether to attend a holiday event this week? Olulade said getting a COVID-19 test is a decent place to start.
“You’ll find that a lot of these tests just aren’t available which is very unfortunate,” she said. “So, yes, the $10 test within that range is an antigen test and that can be very helpful especially if you don’t have symptoms and you’re trying to decide whether or not you should gather.”
Click or tap here to see no-cost COVID-19 testing sites in San Diego County. Vaccination locations in the county are available here as well as through the federal government’s vaccination website, vaccines.gov.
FOX 5’s Dillon Davis contributed to this story.