After missing out on holiday gatherings last year, many people had been planning for months to celebrate Christmas with loved ones. Now, with the surge of Covid-19 cases, some are canceling those plans just days away from the holiday.
The new coronavirus strain, Omicron, is contributing to the rise in cases, and has become the dominant strain of the virus in the US, according to data posted Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Omicron accounted for over 73% of new coronavirus cases in the US last week.
The case surge is forcing people to rethink their travel plans so as to keep their families safe, and instead of in-person celebrations, some are going back to the Zoom calls of 2020.
Antonius Wiriadjaja, 38, hasn’t seen his family in person since Christmas of 2019, he told CNN. But this year, thanks to being vaccinated, the New York artist was planning on bringing his parents to the city from Boston.
Those plans had been in the works since August, he said. They were going to go see the Rockettes and eat at some of his favorite restaurants. But now the plans have been canceled with the hopes of rescheduling for May or June.
“We decided we would delay the visit,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but I rather not be worried. We can still meet online.”
On Friday, the Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes announced they won’t be finishing the “Christmas Spectacular” season due to the “increasing challenges from the pandemic.” Seeing the show being canceled and many restaurants closing for the rest of the year also factored into Wiriadjaja decision, he said.
“I still remember what it was like in April 2020,” he said. “I don’t want a repeat of that. I don’t want to chance getting my parents sick.”
A lot about what researchers know about the new strain, Omicron, has changed over the last two weeks, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said on Tuesday. With cases skyrocketing across the US, it has become clear how contagious it is, she said.
But Dr. Wen says she doesn’t think people need to cancel their holiday plans.
“I do think it’s prudent to re-evaluate them and make a risk-benefit calculation based on each family’s circumstance,” she added.
For Wiriadjaja, even though his parents are vaccinated and boosted, they also are at a higher risk due to being immunocompromised, which factored in his decision.
Protecting young kids unable to be vaccinated
Parshant Natarajan and his family had a road trip planned from Tennessee to Florida to celebrate the holidays. They were going to stop in different cities along the way for preplanned activities, including swimming with manatees. But after seeing the cases rise, Natarajan, 48, said it wasn’t worth the risk, especially since his four-year-old son isn’t vaccinated.
“Until yesterday morning we were still going to go,” he said. “Instead, we are going to do a staycation and explore the local trails. We will be freezing instead of enjoying the nice weather in Florida.”
Natarajan works in the health care data and analytics industry, so he said he has been tracking lots of information related to the pandemic. This has been a blessing and curse, he said.
“The blessing is you know what you are looking at and the curse is you might not take the risk other people will,” he said.
The holiday road trip isn’t the only vacation in his family being canceled, he said. His mother, who lives in Japan, was going to visit in January, but now they are postponing the visit.
In Wisconsin, Bob Armentrout and his family also made the tough decision to not take the risk with family gatherings this year. He told CNN he has 14 grandkids and many are too young to be vaccinated.
“We want to protect everyone, that’s half the reason we got vaccinated and wear masks,” he said. “You don’t know who is going to get it and get very sick.”
This year, just like last year, Christmas presents were ordered online and delivered to different family members’ homes, he said. While they can’t be in person, he said someone will probably set up a Zoom call so they can all see each other on Christmas.
Dr. Wen’s advice for people determining if they will meet in person this year is to factor in the different risks per household and how risky the gathering is.
“First, what is the medical risk of your household?” she said. “If everyone in your household is vaccinated and boosted, and generally healthy, I believe that the risk of severe disease caused by Omicron will be low.”
She added that gathering in a small group with people that are vaccinated and boosted is low-risk. But the risk grows when testing is not required, if vaccination status is unknown, or if some individuals have higher exposures.
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