Doctors warn of COVID-19 surge from upcoming holiday gatherings

TAMPA, Fla. — Some health officials believe we’re already in the beginning of another COVID-19 wave.

“Unfortunately, cases are increasing, hospitalizations are increasing, it looks like we’re heading into another wave,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, Associate Professor at the USF College of Public Health.

They’ve been monitoring a significant rise since mid-Nov.

“Over the last two weeks, the number of hospitalizations has increased by about 49%, so they’re up substantially,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, Distinguished Professor at USF Health.

The latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the new omicron subvariants, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, now make up 69.1% of new COVID-19 infections.

“Just like we’ve seen before, they’re pretty much taking over, and they are going to take over,” said Unnasch.

Health officials said these highly contagious subvariants are only fueling the spread right now.

“And you add to that all of the travel and gathering that happens during the holidays, and it’s an opportunity for more spread,” said Dr. Laura Arline, Chief Quality Officer for BayCare.

That’s why taking some extra safety precautions before and during your holiday celebrations is crucial. But just how much you should take depends on your personal situation.

“If you are under the age of, let’s say, 70 years old, and you’re going to be gathering together with family, and you’ve all be vaccinated with a bivalent vaccine, I wouldn’t worry too much,” said Unnasch.

It’s much different if you’re going to be around people older than 70 or who are immunocompromised.

“You may even want to think about testing right before you go to make sure that you’re negative for COVID,” said Arline.

Doctors also recommended quarantine for a few days before going to a holiday gathering, wearing a face mask on public transit right now, and staying home if you’re feeling sick.

“You don’t want your trip to be ruined when you get there by bringing something other than cheer to the people you’re going to go visit,” said Arline.

Taking these extra steps is important to limit the size of this wave.

“Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be pretty bad,” Roberts said. “Some of the things that we would’ve normally put into place to prevent this we haven’t really been doing anymore. As we’ve seen sort of an unmitigated and continued spread of RSV and also of the flu, I don’t think things will change with COVID.”

Arline said the best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to get a flu shot and the new COVID booster.