CDC, Dr. Fauci's Recommendations for Safe Holiday Gatherings As Omicron COVID Variant Spreads

With the United States in the midst of a surge of COVID-19 infections fueled by the Delta variant—and increasingly, the Omicron variant—how can people keep safe during holiday season gatherings?

Because holiday celebrations often involve different generations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the best way to minimize the risk of COVID-19 is to ensure that you are fully vaccinated, if eligible.

The agency says it is also important to wear well-fitting masks over your nose and mouth when in an indoor public settings if you are not vaccinated. (Masks should not be put on children younger than 2 years old, however.)

In communities with substantial to high levels of transmission, the CDC recommends that even fully vaccinated people should wear a mask in public indoor settings.

Being outdoors is safer than being indoors, and the CDC recommends avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.

Masks do not generally need to be worn in outdoor settings. But consider wearing them in crowded outdoor settings in areas where COVID-19 case numbers are high.

If you are planning to attend an indoor gathering where people who are not in your household are present, consider using a self-test before the event. If you test positive, this means you have an infection and should stay at home.

If you test negative you likely are not infected. But repeating the test with at least a 24-hour interval in between and obtaining another negative result can increase the confidence that you are not infected.

If you are sick or are experiencing symptoms, don't host or attend a gathering, says the CDC.

People who have an underlying health condition or are taking medications that weaken the immune system should take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people—unless advised otherwise by a health care provider—even if they are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot.

If a member of your household, has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated, the CDC recommends wearing a mask when they are present at a gathering regardless of the levels of transmission in your area.

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci urged people to get vaccinated, or to get a booster shot if they have already been fully vaccinated and they are eligible, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads.

"What we're learning about the Omicron variant, is that although it has the capability of really evading the immune response by monoclonal antibodies and vaccine-induced antibodies, when you get a booster, you really reconstitute back up that level of protection that's lost by the particular aspect of the Omicron variant."

"Yes, there will be breakthrough infections, no doubt about that. We know that from the emerging experience we're getting from people in South Africa, and particularly in the U.K. We will be seeing that in this country. The critical issue and the important thing is that you might be protected from infection but clearly, protection against severe disease will be greatly enhanced by getting vaccinated and getting boosted."

CDC data shows that the Omicron variant is beginning to chip away at the dominance of Delta in the United States.

Omicron accounted for 2.9 percent of sequences in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in the week ending December 11, whereas the figure for the week before was 0.4 percent. Scientists believe the variant will spread quickly across the country.

In terms of recommendations for keeping safe at holiday gatherings, Fauci said: "One of the things you can do is try to restrict your activities to situations where you know the vaccination status of people."

"People ask, 'Well, what about the family setting?' If you're vaccinated, your family members are vaccinated, you should feel comfortable in the setting of the holiday season to have dinners and social events at home. People should not feel that that's not safe. I mean, nothing is 100 percent. But when you talk about the relative risk, when you're dealing with vaccinated and particularly boosted people, you can feel comfortable enjoying the holiday."

Newsweek has contacted the CDC for comment.

Dr. Anthony Fauci at the White House
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the President, listens as Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant at the White House on November 29, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Because holiday celebrations often involve different generations, the CDC says the best way to minimize the risk of COVID-19 is to ensure that you are fully vaccinated. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images