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'I would start wearing a mask again' | Austin doctor talks best COVID-19 safety practices for holidays

Dr. Katie Theoktisto, an infectious disease physician with Baylor Scott & White, said masking and getting a booster shot are two key ways to stay safe.

AUSTIN, Texas — With the omicron variant now in Texas, the delta variant making up over 99% of COVID-19 cases in southern states and an uptick in other respiratory viruses, local doctors are asking that you take more precautions to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 this holiday season.

The best practices remain the same. Social distancing and masking are the best ways to prevent COVID-19 aside from getting vaccinated.

Dr. Katie Theoktisto is an infectious disease physician for Baylor Scott & White. She said if you have become more relaxed when it comes to masking and hand washing, you should start taking those precautions again.

“If you haven't been wearing a mask in grocery stores and in other kind of congested settings, I would start wearing a mask again, especially going into the holiday season. And that's not just to prevent yourself from getting sick, but also the loved ones and people that you're going to be around,” Theoktisto said.

Getting a booster shot has also proven to be an effective way to combat COVID-19. Antibodies from COVID-19 infection and COVID-19 vaccines have shown to wane after time, which is why booster shots were rolled out. 

Theoktisto also said the current vaccines should still be helpful against the omicron variant.

“A booster shot can certainly give you some cross-reactivity, so some immunity to that variant, even if the vaccines that we have aren't 100% effective or 90% effective,” Theoktisto said.

   

She said you can feel more confident gathering this holiday season if you and the rest of your family are vaccinated.

“I think you can, especially if the booster shot or first vaccination has been within the past six months,” Theoktisto said. “Some things you know you can talk to your family members about are, 'Is anybody symptomatic?' And if so, maybe they should stay home and stay away from the family gathering or get tested.”

She recommends getting tested for COVID-19 before traveling, especially if you are having any symptoms. You can also get tested for the flu since flu rates are going up. Theoktisto said Baylor, Scott & White has seen an increase in hospital admissions for the flu and other respiratory illnesses. 

She said what would normally be less severe cases of these other respiratory illnesses are more severe, especially in people who are immunocompromised. She said this is due to people losing immunity to these viruses because we have all been wearing masks for the past two years. 

She also said it is also not too late to get your flu shot.

“I've seen admissions for, you know, things that would have normally been a common cold for us in the past,” Theoktisto said. “But now, because we haven't been exposed to a lot of these in a couple of years, we are reacting more severely to them.”

Overall. she said it is up to you to evaluate your risk factors this holiday season and decide which precautions you and your family will take.

“People should probably look into where they're traveling,” Theoktisto said. “What are the rates of COVID there? Who are they going to expose themselves to? Are their family members vaccinated or are they vaccinated? And so, just kind of balancing those risks.”

The CDC says the principal mode by which people are infected with COVID-19 is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying the infectious virus. It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, but the risk is generally considered to be low. Theoktisto said that it is up to you how much you want to disinfect surfaces, but that the most important thing washing your hands and using hand sanitizer.

WATCH: FULL INTERVIEW (11/29): KVUE speaks with doctor about COVID-19 omicron variant 

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