We've certainly come a long way since 2020. Thanks to a series of significant medical advancements, the risk of COVID has declined immensely. With the virus no longer dominating headlines the way it once was, most people are not thinking twice about gathering with loved ones for the upcoming winter holidays.
But before you carve the turkey, it's important to remember that COVID is still out there—and health experts express ongoing concern about COVID-related deaths. That doesn't mean you shouldn't get together, but it does mean you may want to take extra steps to be safe. With that in mind, White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, has some new advice on staying safe during holiday gatherings. Read on to find out what he recommends.
Officials say COVID deaths are still too high in the U.S.
When it comes to COVID, new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all falling right now. But while that might sound like good news, officials are warning that mortality rates for the virus are still too high. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are currently anywhere from 2,000 to 4,500 COVID deaths occurring each week in the U.S.
"We're still in the middle of this—it is not over," Fauci said during a Nov. 3 episode on the Conversations on Health Care radio show. "Four hundred deaths per day is not an acceptable level. We want to get it much lower than that."
The CDC said that deaths have significantly decreased due to high levels of population immunity from vaccinations and prior infection, as well as treatment methods for patients at risk of severe COVID. Nevertheless, "older adults, people with disabilities, or those with underlying medical conditions remain at high-risk of mortality and in-hospital death," the agency said.
New subvariants are more immune evasive, and treatments may not work.
During his interview on the Conversations on Health Care radio show, Fauci said that alongside the still-too-high death rate, officials have other concerns ahead of the holidays. "We're really at a point that may be a crossroads here. As we're entering into the cooler months, we are starting to see the emergence of sublineage variants of Omicron," he explained.
According to the virus expert, Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. appear resistant to Evusheld, which is an important antibody treatment that protects people who are severely immunocompromised. At the same time, hospitals could face a "negative trifecta" during the winter because of the new variants and a resurgent of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to Fauci.
"It's going to be very confounding and might even stress the hospital system, particularly for the pediatric population," he said.
Fauci said we need to significantly lower the number of virus-related deaths happening in the country, and that means preventing the spread of the virus where we can. To that end, he's giving new advice on staying safe from COVID during the holidays.
There are ways to keep yourself and others safe when gathering.
Instead of waiting to see when the next COVID spike hits, Fauci is reminding people that there are things they can do now to protect themselves and their loved ones, especially at Thanksgiving.
During a Nov. 16 interview with Spectrum News, he recommended utilizing at-home COVID tests this year. "One of the things you could easily do is test the day of the dinner, so that you'll know that you are negative for the virus," Fauci explained.
That's not the only protective measure of course. Fauci also pushed up-to-date COVID vaccinations: "If you haven't gotten your updated booster shot … you should do it," he told Spectrum News.
During his earlier interview on Conversations on Health Care, Fauci said people who are at high risk from respiratory viruses should consider wearing a mask indoors, and those who will be gathering at home with vulnerable people should also do so. "That is a very good way of making sure you don't spread infections, so utilization of tests, wearing masks where appropriate, and getting vaccinated," he said during the radio show.
Many people have fully dropped COVID precautions.
Some of us may be hard-pressed to use any COVID protection measures during the holidays, because we're out of practice.
In August, the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) reported that a growing number of people in the U.S. say they've returned to living their "normal" pre-pandemic lives in the past few months. According to the survey, 41 percent said they've return to normalcy—up from just 16 percent who said the same in Jan. 2022.
Normal or not, most Americans are not masking up anymore. The survey found that 54 percent of people in the country say they rarely or never wear a mask indoors, even when they are with people from outside their household. According to the APPC, this is more than double the proportion of non-maskers in January.
"Every life lost to COVID-19 is a tragedy and should be a reminder to continue taking precautions to prevent further serious illness and death," the CDC warned. "As the virus continues to spread and change over time, everyone should continue to take steps to protect themselves and others."