Do I have to take a COVID-19 test before Christmas, New Years gatherings?

With Christmas just a few days away and New Years’ Day a week later, many Memphians will soon be reuniting with friends, relatives, colleagues, and in places of worship.

Local doctors and public health officials have said people shouldn’t panic about the new omicron COVID-19 variant. But they said people should be cautious of the seemingly more contagious variant, which has been detected locally.

With 1,917 active cases in Shelby County as of Thursday, including 265 newly confirmed cases, the number of cases remains down from the recent outbreak fueled by the delta variant. However, the previous holiday had corresponding increases in cases two to three weeks later and doctors and officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated, receive boosters if they are eligible, and in some cases, get vaccinated. test before attending a rally.

Dr Steve Threlkeld, director of infection prevention for the Baptist Memorial Health Care System, said omicron cases were on the rise across the country and the Mid-South would likely see this trend at some point. Although he said people need to be cautious, he acknowledged that people are tired of measures such as masking and social distancing.

Davin Gardner, a pharmacy student, gives Hope Goodbar a COVID-19 nasal swab test before entering the Mempho Music Festival at the Memphis Botanic Garden on Saturday, October 2, 2021.

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“It has destroyed part of the fabric of our society in our country, and people are, rightly, extremely tired of it,” Threlkeld said.

To that end, he said people should think about the level of risk associated with each particular gathering. A group of people in their twenties and thirties who have been vaccinated and received their booster shots would be a relatively low-risk reunion, Threlkeld said.

“The chances of someone having it and having enough viral load to pass it on to other people who will then be unprotected and spread, it gets pretty low. And so we can feel better about that kind of. rally, ”he said.

However, if elderly, immunocompromised or unvaccinated people attend an event, the level of risk increases.

Dr Stephen Threlkeld, infectious disease specialist and co-director of the Baptist Memphis Infection Prevention Program, checks a patient who has been intubated and is unconscious after testing positive for COVID-19.  Baptist Memphis has recorded its highest total number of COVID-19 positive patients in the past 24 hours.

“The change in this pandemic must have been and must continue to protect people who cannot be fully protected,” Threlkeld said. “If you are elderly or if you are immunocompromised … these are the people who can still get serious illness despite being fully vaccinated, because these vaccines are not as effective in these populations. So we really have to protect these people. It is not only the courteous thing to do, it is just the appropriate thing as a good citizen. “

While COVID-19 has killed more than 800,000 people worldwide, there are still many unprotected people and many more lives to be saved, Threlkeld said, something that testing is a part of.

Although PCR tests are more sensitive, he said home COVID-19 tests – which can be purchased at drugstores for around $ 25 for a package of two tests – do a good job of detecting whether someone is emitting enough virus to pass it on to someone else.

“You can test shortly before, on the day of the rally,” he said. “It’s ideal to do it hours before the rally.”

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COVID team member Tameshila Robinson holds a sample from a patient test at Christ Community Health Services' Lamar broadcast station on Monday, November 30, 2020. The test site is free for people with or without insurance and is open Monday through Friday at 8:30 am.  -11h30 and 130h00 to 430h00, appointments and without appointments are authorized.

“If you really want to protect people as much as possible during your gathering and you are an unvaccinated person or around unvaccinated people… you can do a PCR test two or three days earlier… but then on the same day, as a rally, you should probably take a quick test. “

In addition to testing, vaccination and booster shots, Threlkeld said there are other simple steps people can take to make vacation gatherings safer. Considering the milder weather lately, it would help to open the windows or organize events outside to improve ventilation.

He also stressed that anyone who is unvaccinated should wear a mask and that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend a holiday gathering. While testing is important, Threlkeld said the best defense is the jab.

“(Omicron) is taking off, so get your vaccine and get your booster today,” he said.

Corinne S Kennedy covers economic development, health and football for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached by email at [email protected]

Sara H. Byrd