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The Omicron Variant is Here

The Omicron Variant is here: How to Stay Safe over the Holidays

By Yona Lunsky

Many people are feeling very scared, confused and worried right now. We are getting ready for the holidays but there is new COVID-19 variant in town. What do we do with all the anxiety and fear we are feeling right now?

First, make space for the anxiety. We cannot ignore how we are feeling.  Acknowledge it in yourself; acknowledge it in your loved ones.  Talking about it with others you trust is helpful; it helps others to know where you are at and what you need. You are not alone in how you are feeling. Sometimes knowing that helps. The holidays can be an emotional time, even before we felt the exhaustion of COVID-19, so take extra care of yourself, take at least three deep breaths when feeling overwhelmed, and look for small ways that nurture your own well-being.

Another thing that has helped us so far during the pandemic is knowing the facts and taking action. We can feel afraid and more anxious when we feel helpless. But there are some things we can do to help us feel in control and less afraid.

The key to keeping safe is using different layers of protection – like this Swiss cheese model on page 17. Added together, each layer of protection will reduce our risk of getting COVID-19 and prevent spreading it to others.  

Below, we have listed five things we can do right now to keep our community and ourselves safer this holiday season.  Each of these things on their own is important, but they are more effective when you combine them:

  1. Get Vaccinated: Everyone should get a vaccine to protect ourselves from getting very sick from COVID. We used to think it was important to get two shots. Now we see that we need to get three shots to be better protected. If it has been three months since your second shot, it is time to get your third.  Starting today, December 20th, anyone in Ontario aged 18 and up who got their second dose at least 84 days ago will be able to book their third dose. This H-CARDD Easy Read Guide, Booking your third dose, co-created with self-advocates covers important information for people living in Ontario. For more information, call the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1‑833‑943‑3900 or visit one of these websites:
    • Ontario government portal has information on how to book a vaccine appointment. You can also go to your public health unit’s website or call them, or talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They may be able to help you if you think one of the larger vaccination sites will not be able to support you or your loved one.
    • Vaccine Hunters and Vaccine Ontario can help you find a vaccine clinic in your area.
    • Ready for my Shot has helpful information and resources specific to developmental disabilities, as well as contact information/links for every province and territory.
  2. Wear a Well-fitted High-quality Mask: After 18 months of the pandemic, we have learned a lot about masks and why they are important. With the new Omicron variant, it is even more important to have the right mask and to wear it the right way. For extra protection, you can wear an N95 respirator mask, a high-quality mask that is very effective at stopping the virus. N95 masks can be expensive and hard to find, so the blue medical masks can be effective, with a few simple steps to make sure it fits properly. Cloth masks, when made with three layers of good fabric, can still be a good at stopping the virus, but with all masks, the fit is very important – it should fit snuggly, with no gaps between your face and the mask, and it should cover your nose and mouth. What is most important is that you always wear a mask when indoors or when places are crowded and you cannot safely distance. This is something to talk to your doctor about - are you wearing the mask correctly, and do you have the right mask?  Remember that a good mask protects you and people around you.

Here are some helpful resources on masks:

  1. Open a Window (Ventilate): It is always safer to see people outside than inside, and if you meet with other people inside, it is important that the air is moving around. This way, if there is COVID in the air from another person, it mixes up with clean and fresh air – that makes the air safer. So if you are inside, open a window and dress a bit warmer.  You can also wear your mask (see tip #2).   Other things you can do is clean the air with an air purifier; you can even build your own using a box fan and air filters.
  1. Keep it Small: Avoiding crowded places indoors is important to reduce the spread of COVID.  The holidays are a time where people like to travel and meet together with family and friends. Right now small groups are better than big groups, and outdoors is safer then indoors. If you are meeting indoors, follow all the suggestions above to make sure you are as safe as possible. It is also better not to travel right now, unless it is absolutely necessary. Instead of making a big trip on a plane, train, or bus, find ways to celebrate closer to home this holiday season.
  1. Get Tested: If you feel sick, it is important to get a COVID test, and stay away from other people until you feel better. However, we can spread COVID sometimes without even knowing that we have it. This is where the RAT comes in. RAT stands for Rapid Antigen Test. It is done very fast (that is the R – Rapid part), it is a Test (it tells us if we have COVID or not), and the A for Antigen tells us about how the test is done. By putting this little swab in your nostrils, you can find out quickly if you have COVID. It is not always right (you might have it but it does not show up yet, so you can repeat the test in a few days) but it can give you a good idea. If you are meeting with someone indoors and you want to be safer, you could both do this test just before you see each other.

Here is a video showing how to do a rapid test. You can pick up free RATs at various locations across the province in Ontario; supply is running low but there should be more available in the coming days.  Use the Government of Ontario Pop-up Holiday Schedule to find rapid antigen tests near you. You can also get a rapid test at a pharmacy or you can buy them online here and here.

By following these five simple tips, we can all stay safe this winter. For more information on how to stay safe during the holidays, here are some helpful resources:

Whatever you are feeling right now, take the time to enjoy your family and friends. And let’s take care of one another – it is okay to ask others for help (know what would be helpful and let people know); lend a hand by helping someone book a vaccine appointment, baking your neighbor some cookies, or calling someone just to say hello. As a community, there is a lot we can do to help us feel better and safer.

Information regarding COVID is changing quickly. We will try to keep people updated. Let us know if this blog post was helpful or what other challenges you are having now. For more information, visit our H-CARDD COVID page.