What should people know about these new variants, especially as so many gather for celebrations like Mother’s Day and graduation? What kinds of precautions should they take? How can people measure their own risk, and are there some gatherings that people need to skip?
Dr. Lina Wen: We know that the original Omicron variant was indeed more transmissible than earlier variants such as the Delta variant. Individuals with omicron tend to have milder disease than those with delta. Although vaccines are less effective against Omicron than some previous variants, vaccines and boosters still provide excellent protection against severe disease caused by Omicron.
The same seems to be the case with these new variants from Omicron. There is no evidence that they cause more serious disease, and vaccinations and boosters are still the best form of prevention for severe disease. However, it appears to be more transmissible than the original Omicron BA.1, which means that avoiding the coronavirus is more difficult than before.
CNN: Are these new sub-variables still prevalent in the same way?
Wen: Yeah. As a reminder, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is a respiratory virus that can spread by close contact and the airborne (through the air) route. If you are near an infected person and they cough or sneeze, these particles may pass to you.
Also, since Covid-19 is transmitted through the air, it can only be transmitted by breathing or speaking. There is also the theoretical possibility of surface transmission, which means that if an infected person touches a doorknob, then touches it and then touches your nose or mouth, you may have the infection.
These new variants are so infectious that a cloth mask is not enough. You should wear a high-quality respirator, such as N95, KN95, or KF94. Make sure the mask fits snugly. Adults who cannot tolerate such masks or children who are too young to wear these masks should wear at least a 3-ply surgical mask. To ensure a better fit, they can also wear a cloth mask on top.
CNN: What Kinds of Precautions Should I Take sDo people take it when they go to graduation parties, Mother’s Day celebrations, and other events?
Wen: There are three main types of precautions – vaccinations, testing and concealment. The number you decide to take depends on your medical conditions, the level of Covid-19 in your community and your risk calculation for how much you want to avoid Covid-19.
First, let’s talk about the three precautions. Vaccines and boosters protect well against severe disease. It also reduces the chance of infection. Make sure you are up to date with the supporter, including deciding on a second supporter if you are eligible.
Taking a quick home test just before meetings can reduce the risk. These tests measure how infected you are at that point in time, so they should be taken as close to the pool as possible. Having a negative test three days ago only indicates that you do not have enough Covid-19 at that point to appear on the test; Don’t say you’re not contagious now. If everyone tests negative before getting together, this also reduces the risk.
Of course, masking also reduces risk. I don’t think it’s very practical to ask people to get together for a dinner mask, and a lot of social events involving food and drink can’t realistically force things to be hidden. But if you are someone who is at high risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19 and really want to avoid the Coronavirus, it is always better for you to hide the mask even when others around you are not.
You can attend a graduation party in an N95 mask or any other high quality mask. You can go to the front desk after eating and drinking for others but you choose not to. And you can just choose to go to a small Mother’s Day gathering with the close family, all wary and tested before, rather than a big party.
CNN: Do you recommend that juveniles have vaccine and testing requirements?
Wen: This depends on the event. If it’s outdoors, I don’t think any of the requirement is necessary. Indoor events with a lot of people, especially in areas where Covid-19 is most prevalent, should consider asking for proof of perfect vaccination and boosters. Having the test on the same day also reduces risks.
If you are at high risk of developing complications from Covid-19, or if you don’t really want to catch coronavirus, you may want to take extra precautions on your own. Wear a mask, as I mentioned above, and skip indoor events with food and drink unless you’re OK with giving up food and drink and hiding it all the time. Make a plan in advance, including choosing to leave if you feel uncomfortable.
I would also advise people that any time you relate to others, you have a risk of contracting Covid-19. This does not mean that you should not do any gatherings. This means that you should be aware of your risks and think in advance how much you want to avoid the coronavirus. If you want to avoid this, take extra precautions. Know that new and more contagious subvariants mean that the coronavirus is more difficult to avoid than before.
Some people may decide that they really want to attend a high-risk event despite the risks. If so, they should get tested three days after the event and definitely before visiting immunocompromised family members. Also find out ahead of time if you qualify for treatments such as antiviral pills.
At this point in the pandemic, it is unrealistic to tell people to avoid gatherings. But we can help people understand and assess their risks, as well as take precautions both in and after events to reduce risks to themselves and others around them.