Experts Discuss how Omicron Alters Infection Risk

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Credits: (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

The expeditious spread of the omicron variant has caught many vaccinated people confused about the activities which are safe to do as the U.S. heads up into year three of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Omicron appears to be far more transmissible than prior versions of the virus and is better able to evade immune protection from vaccines or prior infection, though it seems to cause less severe illness.

The new cases in the U.S. topped 590,000 on Wednesday, with an average of 1,349 deaths. Added to the statistics, around 110,000 Covid patients are being hospitalized. For many people, statistics raise familiar questions about whether to curtail social gatherings, travel, and other activities.

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An interview conducted by NBC News then asked four public health experts about their behavior and risk calculus during this chapter of the pandemic. 

All of them advised vaccinated people to stay vigilant and conscientious and to not return fully to pre-pandemic life but there was no firm consensus around some activities like travel. But others said they need to return to some pre-pandemic rituals while taking strict precautions. What follows are their answers to 5 common questions which may air your mind.

Wearing N95, KN95, KF94 or an identical high-quality face covering will protect from the omicron variant as Dr. Kavita Patel, a medical aid physician in Washington, D.C., and a scholar at the Brookings Institution said folks that can afford to upgrade their masks should trash the material ones that were ubiquitous during earlier Covid waves. Higher-quality masks like N95s are more practical at blocking viral particles.

“I have thrown out my cloth masks,” Patel, who is additionally an NBC News medical contributor and columnist for MSNBC, said. “I’ve saved a pair of my children’s favorite cloth masks, though, but I’ve got them visiting school wearing KN95s.”

Handle Covid isolation and protocols correctly. The most recent source of confusion about Covid protocols came last week when the CDC shortened the recommended time people should isolate after testing positive from 10 days to 5 — if their case is asymptomatic or symptoms are resolving. The agency failed to ask people to check negative before re-emerging.

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The CDC clarified its guidance Tuesday, saying people can use rapid antigen tests around the fifth day of their isolation if they need to and have access to them, and that they should wear masks for one more five days.

Gounder said the guidance was “probably the foremost confusion I’ve seen start-up to this point.” She added that it’d be “preferable” for people to urge testing before leaving isolation since some can remain infectious for up to eight days after the initial five-day period, “and we don’t always know who that’s visiting be.”

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