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Health experts weigh in on how to stay safe during the holidays as omicron variant spreads

71% of eligible Texans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose

FORT WORTH, Texas — The omicron COVID-19 variant is rapidly spreading across the U.S. and now makes up 92.1% of cases in the Texas region, according to CDC estimates, but that’s not a reason to panic.

The same tools that have kept Americans safe for the past year remain the best defense against the virus.

“Still the most effective way to stay safe is vaccination, number one. Number two, then it’s masking. Those are the things that I know can help you,” Dr. Joseph Chang, chief medical officer at Parkland Hospital, said.

Chang says 90% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Hospitalizations are starting to tick up but haven’t surged.

“We fully expect that number will really start to rise in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

This week, tens of millions of Americans will travel for the holidays and gather. While the World Health Organization is discouraging those large gatherings, White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Chang say fully vaccinated people can feel protected this holiday season, though nothing is 100%.

Chang says testing can help, but since a person's infectivity can change daily, it won't catch all cases unless it's done repeatedly. 

“I’m not here to discourage family interaction,” Chang said. “You need to interact safely and that’s getting vaccinated.”

Health clinics have replaced vaccine hubs and long lines have been replaced by a one-at-a-time approach.

Lauren Cohen was at Tarrant County’s clinic in Watauga Monday for her booster shot. She didn’t need any convincing.

“My mom died of COVID at the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s really important to me to make sure I do my part to keep everybody safe,” she said.

Last year, her kids couldn’t travel to see grandparents for Christmas. Now, the whole family is vaccinated.

“It really means the world to us because family’s everything,” she said. “They don’t get to see them often.”

Jared Carrerass and his wife stopped by clinic and are also getting boosters this week.

“We’re traveling to California, have elderly grandparents, don’t want to bring anything with us,” Carrerass said. “It’s not just protecting those in my family but around me. I feel like I have a responsibility you know.”

Nineteen million Texans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, about 66% of the state.

The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually end. How quickly that happens and how many lives are claimed first is dependent on the decisions we all make now.

“To sit and believe that if you don’t do anything that somehow you’re going to get lucky I think is really playing with fire,” Chang said.

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