The rapidly spreading Omicron variant is expected to cause a steep increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Massachusetts over the coming weeks. Activities that were thought to be reasonably safe for vaccinated people a few months ago now carry greater risk. Given the very high transmissibility of Omicron, the Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD) urges residents to observe these recommendations:
- Get your vaccine and booster
- Wear your mask as much as possible. Higher quality “medical style” masks provide the best protection.
- Carefully consider holiday celebrations and social gatherings
- Take precautions if traveling
- Get tested
- If infected with or exposed to COVID-19, follow public health guidance
More detailed information about each of these recommendations is provided below.
Get Your Vaccine and Booster
New data indicate that the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will not provide adequate protection against infection from the Omicron variant, but will protect against severe illness. COVID-19 vaccination followed by a booster dose is the single best way to reduce the risk of infection and severe illness from the Omicron variant. CPHD strongly recommends:
- Vaccination for people age 5 and older.
- Booster vaccine for people age 16 and older. You are eligible for a booster 6 months after dose 2 of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and 2 months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
- Note: CPHD recommends the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and booster for people who are eligible. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine and booster are only recommended for people who are unwilling or unable to get the two-dose vaccines.
Wear Your Mask as Much as Possible
CPHD urges residents—regardless of vaccination or booster status— to wear a mask indoors when outside the home and in some outdoor settings. Recommendations and tips:
- In addition to indoor places where masking is mandatory, people should wear a mask when visiting the homes of friends and family, apartment building common areas, workplaces, and other indoor settings.
- Not all masks provide the same protection. How well a mask fits, how well it filters the air, and how many layers it has are all important to consider when choosing which mask to wear. Higher-quality masks, such as KF94 and KN95 masks, offer much better protection to the wearer than cloth masks. See CPHD’s Choosing the Best Mask for You guidance.
- If someone in your household may have COVID-19, all household members should wear a mask.
- Consider wearing a mask outdoors if you are in a crowded area where physical distancing is not possible.
Carefully Consider Holiday Celebrations & Social Gatherings
Because Omicron spreads much more easily than previous variants, the risk of infection at indoor events is greater than it was in early December. If you are hosting or attending a social gathering, here are some things to consider:
- Outdoor celebrations and activities are always less risky than indoor ones.
- Smaller indoor gatherings with people who are fully vaccinated and boosted are less risky than larger ones where people’s vaccination status may be unknown.
- Indoor celebrations that involve unmasking—such as a dinner party—pose a greater risk than a gathering where people are masked all or most of the time.
- Don’t host or attend a gathering if you are feeling sick, even with mild symptoms such as a sore throat or stuffy nose.
You may want to cancel or skip events if:
- You are concerned about personal risk or if you live or spend time with vulnerable household or family members.
- The event will be held in a crowded indoor setting, especially if ventilation is poor.
- People are not vaccinated and boosted and will not consistently wear masks.
- You are an older adult or have a health condition that increases your risk of serious illness from a COVID-19 infection.
If you decide to host or attend an indoor event:
- Communicate with your host or guests to assess risk and comfort level before the event. It’s okay to ask about vaccination status, the number of guests expected, and whether masks will be worn or required at an event so that you can make an informed decision about whether to attend or host the gathering.
- Consider asking guests to self-test on the day of the event. Be aware, however, that while self-tests are convenient and are becoming increasingly accurate, they are not as accurate as a PCR test in detecting COVID-19. Even after a negative self-test, consider taking other precautions such as masking and distancing, especially if someone in your gathering is immunocompromised or otherwise at higher risk for serious COVID-19 illness.
- Use fans or open windows to improve ventilation.
- Wear a mask except when actively eating or drinking.
- Ask guests to not sing or talk loudly, even when masked.
- Try to maintain physical distance from one another where possible.
Take Precautions if Traveling
- If you are considering traveling for a holiday or event, visit the CDC’s Travel page.
- Remember that wearing a mask is required when traveling on public transportation (including airplanes) and indoors in transportation hubs (including airports). For more on masks, see CPHD’s Mask Guidance web page.
- Do not travel if you have been exposed to COVID-19, if you are sick, or if you test positive for COVID-19.
- If you are not fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends that you delay your travel. If you must travel, get tested both before and after your trip.
Cambridge offers free COVID-19 testing five days a week. Home test kits, when available, are another option. You should get tested for COVID-19:
- If you have symptoms of COVID-19.
- Five days after having close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
- Before and after attending a gathering, especially if you or any attendee is not fully vaccinated.
- If you are not fully vaccinated or boosted, and have frequent in-person contact with others.
If You Are Infected With or Exposed to COVID-19:
- Tell your health care provider about your positive test result and stay in contact with them. Let them know if you are feeling very sick. If you have trouble breathing, go to your local emergency room or call 911.
- Observe public health quarantine and isolation guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
- Notify close contacts directly and/or through the state’s MassNotify system. MassNotify is a voluntary, anonymous service that alerts you if you may have been exposed to COVID-19. If you test positive for COVID-19, the system also allows you to anonymously share your COVID-19 positive test result with other MassNotify users.
- Cambridge residents who have food or supply needs due to COVID-19 should contact the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC) at 617-868-2900.