KC area health officials have these tips to stay safe from COVID-19 on Christmas

Have a wary, wary Christmas? Public health officials say with the rise of the Omicron variant in the Kansas City metro, residents should take precautions when gathering for the holidays. Getting vaccinated is one big step towards ensuring a safe family gathering, but you may also want to mask up and stay physically distanced if your getting together in large groups outside your immediate bubble. Photo via AdventHealth Shawnee Mission.

Holiday plans for many people this week include seeing family, whether that means traveling or just gathering indoors.

In an update last week about the current state of the pandemic across the Kansas City metro, leaders of local hospital systems and public health officials urged residents to consider altering their holiday agendas in the face of rising case numbers.

Johnson County is currently in an area of “high” community risk, with 365 new cases per 100,000 residents recorded on Tuesday, Dec. 21, and a positivity rate of 11.3%.

Also on Tuesday, the University of Kansas Health System reported 84 patients with COVID-19, including 61 active infections.

Of those cases, the hospital said, 19 were in the ICU and 13 were on ventilators. Only 2 of the 84 patients were fully vaccinated.

The CDC estimates that the Omicron variant is already responsible for at least 73% of current COVID cases in the U.S.

As it and the lingering Delta variant continues to spread locally, here are some ways it might shape your precautions during the coming Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Should I gather with family?

Recent guidance from local health officials recommends keeping family gatherings small and limiting them to just those within your immediate household or family bubble if possible.

Risk should especially be considered if gatherings include family members who at more risk of infection or severe impacts from the disease, such as immunocompromised people or those over 65.

If my family is gathering, how can we stay safe?

Being fully vaccinated and (if eligible) boosted is the first step in making your holiday gathering as safe as it can be, health officials say.

If you’re going to be gathering with family where vaccination status is either unknown or varied, you can remain physically distanced as much as possible.

You should also consider wearing masks if you are with family members you don’t normally see.

Keeping windows open, if weather permits (it could hit 60 degrees on Christmas in the Kansas City area) can also keep indoor spaces where people are gathering well-ventilated.

Above all, people who are sick or have symptoms should not host or attend gatherings, health officials say.

What kind of mask should I be wearing?

Everyone over two years old is encouraged to mask up indoors.

CDC guidance suggests choosing masks that have two or more fabric layers, completely cover the mouth and nose and fit well without extra space around the face.

Public health officials are also warning that with the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant, hospital-grade KN95 masks or surgical masks, instead of cloth masks, are more effective at limiting spread.

What’s the best way to travel?

Given that physically distancing is more difficult on most public transportation, CDC guidance maintains that traveling is safest for those who are fully vaccinated.

Those who will be using public transportation should wear a mask while traveling, and people with travel plans are encouraged to avoid crowded indoor spaces in the days leading up to it.

The federal government’s mask mandate for public transportation, including all planes, trains and buses, remains in effect through at least January.

Should I get tested before Christmas and New Years?

You should, say health officials, but the bigger question is: will you be able to find a test?

Local media have reported a shortage of at-home rapid tests at pharmacies in the Kansas City area in recent days.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment recommends taking a test before gathering with family, but relying on a lab-based PCR test, where results can take two to three days to be returned, may not be helpful this close to Christmas.

Residents 16 and older can book a test at JCDHE’s Olathe testing site through Thursday. You can do that here.

The lab will be closed Friday, Christmas Eve.

You can find other local testing sites on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s testing map here.