New Year’s Eve with omicron: Scale back festivities and mask up, doctors advise

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With the omicron variant fueling the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, doctors in West Michigan are echoing the advice from health experts nationwide, urging Americans to scale back their New Year’s Eve celebrations this year.

Their advice: return to following the basic guidelines that were set at the beginning of the pandemic. That includes wearing a face mask, staying at least 6 feet apart from those not in your immediate family and attending social gatherings that are outdoors.

“This virus is passed by the air we breathe. When we are sitting here talking, we are exhaling a gallon of air a minute. So if you put six people around a chair, everybody is going to get it,” said Dr. Shelley Schmidt, a pulmonary and critical care physician for Spectrum Health.

This week the state recorded all-time high COVID-19 case counts, reporting nearly 13,000 cases a day. Schmidt says vaccinations were much more effective with the delta variant and hospitals are seeing a lot more breakthrough cases with omicron.

“It’s an incredibly catchy virus,” she said. “Indoor parties are going to be difficult with omicron. Test positivity is skyrocketing. Mask indoors and in company with others who could potentially be ill.”

She adds it’s critically important to get vaccinated and your booster to prevent hospitalizations and death.

“The bird’s-eye view that we unfortunately have is seeing those people a week or two weeks after the fun events and you’ve got someone who is in the hospital on the ventilator who has a 50/50 chance of survival,” she said.

“As catchy as omicron is, we are all going to have a date with it. And so you have to decide how that date’s going to look. Are you going to be masked, are you going to try to reduce how much virus you get, are you going to be vaccinated are you going to protect yourself?” Schmidt said.

She recommends wearing medical-grade masks such as KN95 masks if you can’t ensure distance from others. If you’re meeting in small groups, make sure there is good ventilation indoors, use air filters and open windows to reduce the risk.

“We expect it to blow through quickly here like it did it in the United Kingdom and South Africa,” Schmidt said. “It’s not necessary that this level of vigilance is going to be the case all the way into the spring time. Hopefully this virus will come and we can get back to being a little closer to normal by the spring.”

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