In a confusing epidemic, experts are sharing their methods

News asked four public health professionals about their behavior and risk calculation during this omicron surgery.


The rapid spread of the omicron variant has left many vaccinated people feeling confused about which activities are safe as the US enters the third year of the Covid-19 disaster.

Omicron appears to be more contagious than previous strains of the virus and is better able to protect the immune system from vaccines or previous infections, although it appears to cause very little illness.

The average number of new U.S. cases rose to 590,000 on Wednesday, with an average death toll of 1,349 people. More than 110,000 Covid patients were hospitalized. For many people, those staggering figures raise common questions about whether to reduce social gatherings, travel, and other activities.

NBC News asked four public health professionals about their behavior and risk calculations in this chapter of the epidemic. They all advised vaccinated people to remain vigilant and vigilant - and not to return completely to pre-epidemic life - but there was no strong consensus on other activities such as flying.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, commented extensively, saying he had avoided food that went with restaurants since March 2020.

But some say they have reverted to other pre-epidemic practices while taking firm security measures. The following are the answers to five common questions that may come to your mind.

What kind of mask are you wearing right now?

Very simple answer: N95, KN95, KF94 or the same high quality face mask.

Drs. Kavita Patel, a pediatrician in Washington, D.C., and an expert at Brookings Institution, said people who could not afford their mask should discard fabrics that were ubiquitous during the previous Covid waves. High-quality masks like N95 work best in blocking viral particles.

"I lost my cloth mask," said Patel, who is also a NBC News medical provider and MSNBC correspondent. "I kept a favorite fabric mask for my few children, but I took them to school wearing KN95s."

But if the fabric cover is the only one that can afford it or pay for it, that is probably better than nothing.

IS IT OK to fly?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that home travelers delay any journey until they are fully vaccinated and that everyone wears a mask at the airport and on planes.

Experts who spoke to NBC News expressed various levels of comfort by flying at this stage of the epidemic. Osterholm said he has not started flying again and has only been flying once since March 2020, and "I am usually 150,000 miles a year."

"Anything I can avoid, I will avoid," Osterholm said. "It's easy for me in the sense that I can accomplish what I need to do without getting on a plane." He also avoids trains and buses.

Some professionals were very open to air travel. Patel said she went to Puerto Rico last month on vacation with her husband and two children, all of whom were vaccinated. He wore an N95 on the plane - and never took it off - and researched the Covid situation in Puerto Rico before departure, as the CDC recommends. (Patel said he had planned a trip before cases increased dramatically on the island.)

Drs. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, said she and her husband were heading to Kansas City, Missouri, over Christmas.

They, too, were wearing an N95 mask while traveling, and were not eating or drinking so as not to remove their face masks. While in downtown Kansas, they do quick exercises every morning.

"It was a Covid-free Christmas," Gounder said.

Drs. Leana Wen, a paramedic and former health minister in Baltimore, said she would feel "truly confident" on the plane (wearing a mask) as long as she had to worry about herself and her husband. But they have two children under the age of 5, who do not qualify for immunizations, including a child under 2 who cannot wear a face mask, so they avoid flying.

Do you eat at restaurants?

Osterholm makes a mistake here and there: He has not visited a restaurant since March 2020. He has been to the grocery store only a few times (candy, of course) and orders most of the food online.

Gounder, on the other hand, has not eaten at home since Covid-19 arrived in the US, but she and her husband, who live in New York City, once ate outside in temporary restaurants that have filled many streets.

He continues to avoid movie theaters, Broadway shows and gymnasiums, however, and said it was "long before" he felt comfortable returning to those facilities.