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With a rise in coronavirus cases, what precautions should you take for Mother’s Day, graduations and other festivities?

<i>Spencer Platt/Getty Images</i><br/>According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

By Katia Hetter, CNN

Cases of Covid-19 are rising again. Infections have increased by more than 50% compared with the previous week in at least eight US states. Parts of New York have moved into the “high” designation of Covid-19 community level, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention metrics.

The surge in the United States appears to be driven by the new BA.2.12.1 variant, an offshoot of the Omicron subvariant BA.2. In the meantime, South Africa is facing its own Covid-19 wave, driven by two more Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5.

What should people know about these new subvariants, especially as many are gathering for celebrations such as Mother’s Day and graduations? What kinds of precautions should they take? How can people gauge their own risk, and are there some gatherings people need to skip?

To guide us through these questions, I spoke with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She is also author of “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health” and the mother of two young children.

CNN: What can you tell us about these new Omicron subvariants?

Dr. Leana Wen: We know that the original Omicron variant was already more transmissible than previous variants like the Delta variant. Individuals infected with Omicron tended to have milder disease than those infected with Delta. And though the vaccines are less effective against Omicron than against some previous variants, vaccines and boosters still provide excellent protection against severe disease due to Omicron.

The same seems to be the case with these new Omicron subvariants. There is no evidence that they cause more severe disease, and vaccination and boosters still are the best form of protection against severe illness. They do, though, seem to be even more transmissible than the original Omicron BA.1, which means that avoiding the coronavirus is even harder than before.

CNN: Are these new subvariants still spread the same way?

Wen: Yes. As a reminder, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is a respiratory virus that can be spread by close contact and by the airborne route (through the air). If you are around someone who is infected, and they cough or sneeze, those particles could be transmitted to you.

Also, because Covid-19 is airborne, it could be transmitted just by someone breathing or speaking. There is also the theoretical possibility of surface transmission, meaning that if someone who’s infected touches a doorknob, then you touch it and then you touch your nose or mouth, you could be infected.

That means the precautions we have been speaking about all along still work to prevent infection with Covid-19. Masking reduces the likelihood that you will inhale aerosols or other particles expelled by someone else — and the type of mask really matters.

These new variants are so contagious that a cloth mask just isn’t sufficient. You really should be wearing a high-quality respirator mask, like an N95, KN95 or KF94. Make sure the mask is well-fitting. Adults who can’t tolerate such masks or children too young to wear these masks should wear at least a 3-ply surgical mask. To ensure better fit, they could also wear a cloth mask on top.

Ventilation is also key. Outdoors remains much safer than indoors. And indoors, there is a big difference between a large room with open windows and lots of space versus a small cramped enclosed area where people are packed together.

And don’t forget handwashing. Effective handwashing with soap and water protects not only against the coronavirus but other pathogens, too.

CNN: What kinds of precautions should people take when going to graduation parties, Mother’s Day celebrations and other events?

Wen: There are three main types of precautions — vaccines, testing and masking. How many you decide to take depends on your medical circumstances, the level of Covid-19 in your community and your own risk calculus for how much you want to keep avoiding Covid-19.

First, let’s talk about the three precautions. Vaccines and boosters protect very well against severe disease. They also reduce the chance of infection. Make sure you are up to date on your booster, including deciding about a second booster if you are eligible.

Taking a rapid home test right before get-togethers can also reduce risk. These tests measure how infectious you are at that point in time, so they should be taken as close to the gathering as possible. Having a negative test three days ago only says that you don’t have enough Covid-19 at that point to show up on the test; it doesn’t say that you aren’t infectious now. If everyone takes a negative test right before getting together, that also reduces risk.

Of course, masking also reduces risk. I don’t think it’s very practical to ask that people getting together for dinner mask, and a lot of social events that involve food and drink can’t realistically enforce masking. But if you are a person at high risk for severe illness from Covid-19 and really want to avoid the coronavirus, it’s always a choice for you to mask even when others around you aren’t.

You could attend a graduation ceremony in an N95 or other high-quality mask. You could go to the reception after where others are eating and drinking but you choose not to. And you could choose only to go to a small gathering for Mother’s Day with close family, all of whom are cautious and tested right before, rather than a large party.

I think it’s important for everyone to think of masking in high-risk settings, for example, crowded airports and train stations, as the CDC recommends. That reduces the chance of your getting infected in these settings and then having to miss out on the graduation or other events of great value to you.

CNN: Would you recommend that events have vaccine and testing requirements?

Wen: That depends on the event. If it’s outdoors, I don’t think either requirement is necessary. Indoor events with a lot of people, especially in areas with higher Covid-19 transmission, should consider requiring proof of vaccination and ideally boosters. Having same-day testing also reduces risk.

If you are at high risk for Covid-19 complications, or if you really do not want to get the coronavirus, you might want to take additional precautions yourself. Wear a mask, as I mentioned above, and skip indoor events with food and drink unless you are OK forgoing the food and drink and masking the whole time. Create a plan in advance, including choosing to leave if you feel uncomfortable.

I would also advise people that any time you are associating with others, you have a risk of contracting Covid-19. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any gatherings. It means that you should be aware of your risk and think through, in advance, how much you want to keep avoiding the coronavirus. If you want to avoid it, then take additional precautions. Know that the new and even more contagious subvariants mean that it’s even harder to avoid the coronavirus than before.

Some people may decide that they really want to attend a higher-risk event despite the risks. If that’s the case, they should get tested three days after the event and definitely before visiting immunocompromised family members. Also, know in advance if you are eligible for treatments like antiviral pills.

At this point in the pandemic, it’s unrealistic to tell people to avoid gatherings. But we can help people understand and weigh their own risks, and also take precautions both at the events and after to reduce the risk to themselves and others around them.

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  1. Such bs lies and fear mongering. It’s a cold for 99 percent of people. How is this still even a thing? And why are you continuing to post this garbage? But whatever. Sheep here gobble it all up. Keep your mask on and get shots that will kill you. Have fun being terrified for zero reason.

      1. How will others decide when the negative side effects are not presented in “equal” fashion with the benefits ? The charges of fear mongering- propaganda- and political party promotion all stem from the fact that “both sides” are not being presented equally- yours is “news for one- not news for all”… yet you bemoan the divisive nature of our USofA… yer part of the problem.

          1. Says the ever-powerful almighty Barney LOL! The “People’s Fact Checker” gimme a break.. No one trust YOU or the one-sided “facts” that just so happen to align with your leftist agenda! Barney you are not a source of reputability in the news dept, Many people can see that now.. You clearly live in extreme denial or you simply have no soul..its one or the other..

            1. If I didn’t work for a wonderful organization, your unfair, untrue slings and arrows might sting a bit. But I know my life and my skills are appreciated by many. That you need to berate and attack me says way more about you than they will ever say about me. You’ve not disproved anything we’ve ever posted to this site, with any reputable information. (Does SOME CNN stuff lean? Yes, but we didn’t post it – it’s an automated feed, the vast majority of which is factual and objective.) We correct our errors, if/when they occur. The rest is all political spin.

            2. Yeh- how hilarious and revealing was that quote from Barney Lerten- “There is no “other side” to facts”… So Barney’s self proclaimed- self accepted- self bias are the “only facts” out there ! There ya go folks- that is how censorship works- that is propaganda accelerates- that is how the US Constitution is being tread upon… now wait for the angry response that I’m twisting the very words he’s posted. I’d be wary of this one !

              1. Yes, you do twist my words. Of course facts are open to interpretation. But only to a degree that doesn’t undermine their truth.
                Whoever you are, I feel used and frustrated by responding to you.
                So instead, on this Sunday, as I watch wise words beings spoken in an online church service, I will try harder to answer a higher calling, and not descend into the no-win arguments that are such a waste of time and energy.
                Do you have a faith, bghw? Is this your “higher calling”? Is this how you “enjoy” spending your days, publicly berating a fellow Central Oregonians and painting as bleak a picture of our lives as you can, all to prove you are wise in some form or fashion?
                If you can’t speak in friendship and with a civil tongue, it’s no wonder so few interact with you, other than others with dark hearts expressed here daily.
                I will take up whatever guidance Viafoura suggests for making this less of the “toxic waste dump” a new Bend subreddit thread castigates (yeah I know all commie pinko liberals) — where some have said I should be “nominated for sainthood” for what I put up with from our sad fellow Central Oregonians. Other urge us to “drop the ban hammer” and be firmer, note Viafoura saying 80% of people say they’ll never return to the kind of uncivil dialogue so many here perpetuate.
                So …I wish you only the best. That you see the world is not going to hell, unless we keep saying and wishing so, to prove a political point.
                At the very least, maybe I will gain tools that better train me not to engage with the toxic folks among us. That it’s truly a waste of time and energy.
                I wish you no ill. I hope and pray you find a similar stance about me. You cost me no sleep, but of course it’s frustrating to be lied about and attacked so constantly with things I know not to be true. I will try harder not to do the same to you, and instead not engage. It’s clearly, to so many, not worth it.
                I wish you well and a good Sunday.

      2. What is terrifying is some people actually trusted KTVZ and took your advice to go get boosted.. Now some of those people strongly regret that decision and are dealing with serious negative side affects which they have zero legal recourse..The family members of those who made that decision are suffering too having to watch their loved ones deteriorate.. Barney, How do you sleep at night knowing deep down you are a major part of the problem with our society? Even though you refuse to take any type of responsibly for the social pressure you and your outfit put on people to blindly trust big Pharma for the sake of “the greater good” Your behaving is appalling, but not the least bit surprising to anyone by now..

        1. We never advised people to do anything. We provided factual information from reputable sources, as that advice and information evolved with more knowledge. Encouraged people to talk to THEIR doctors and not to trust anonymous comment stuff.
          If we were hearing from many people here with these severe rare side effects, and they wanted to go on camera, and doctors corroborated what they said, you think we’d reject the story to “continue the narrative” claptrap? And no other media would touch it because of those ‘secret big pharma payments’ or other balderdash?
          No. The spin is extreme, and untrue. We hear from people, instead, who say your claims are dangerous and should not be allowed.
          Good factual journalism is more vital than ever when the real “problem with our society” is the hate, falsehoods, spin and blame. And most people we encounter in our daily lives know it, and support what we do, very strongly.
          I sleep fine.

        2. We know the answer to this question- “Barney, How do you sleep at night knowing deep down you are a major part of the problem with our society?”… Because as Barney posted above… “There is no “other side” to facts”… So when we argued that Barney was pushing “settled science”- he did so with the understanding that there are no other facts… that the VAERS reports are not confirmed or reviewed- therefore are not to be trusted- so says the CDC… we now know all this was bunk… but Barns “facts are the facts” ! That is some dangerous ideological hogwash- and is why Oregon is in the dire situation it’s in- too many left leaning Dems and liberals want to see and control the world through their “facts” ! Oh My !

      3. Tell us more about vaccines Barney. Like how you promoted the Johnson and Johnson for 2 years saying it was safe and effective, yet was pulled due to blood clots. Irresponsible reporting.

        1. We don’t ‘promote.’ We report, from factual sources, like 1,000s of reputable news agencies around the world. They didnt ‘pull’ it due to the rare side effects, but restricted it’s use. We get the facts straight, responsibly.

  2. Just back from 15 days traveling in Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona.

    Only in Oregon does this constant droning continue in the manner it does.

    Washington and California aside.

    The politics of COVID are absurd – reporting on them only reminds us of how this subject is being beaten to death by those whose agenda is questionable.

    1. We have no block in this system. Despite haters’ claims to the contrary. But we do have a tech error not worth the time to fix, and when asked nicely go back and retrieve a few scattered comments that have nothing to do with politics.

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