In the midst of this latest wave of COVID-19, a pervasive myth persists that individuals can safeguard themselves by simply gathering in smaller groups and dispensing with all other safeguards. As experts told the AmNews, nothing could be further from the truth. Or more dangerous.

Michlle Morse, MD, MPH, chief medical officer and deputy commissioner of the Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told the AmNews that it is important to be cautious, even when gathering in small groups, “especially because mask wearing is so much less [prevalent] than it used to be, and especially because people are just much more mobile than they were two years ago. Let’s say when we were at the beginning of the pandemic, even a small gathering could definitely spread COVID, flu, RSV, any of these viruses…anytime we have this level of activity, and movement, and lack of masking, even a small gathering can definitely lead to spread of any of these viruses.”

According to experts at Yale Medicine, “The World Health Organization (WHO) has called XBB.1.5 the most transmissible Omicron strain so far. In the U.S., it has spread like wildfire in the New England area, where infections rose over a short period of time to more than 84% of cases as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the end of the third week of January.” The spread of XBB.1.5 occurred during and shortly after many people gathered for the holidays and continued to gather in small groups

Researchers Christopher M. Whaley, PhD; Jonathan Cantor, PhD; Megan Pera, MS; and Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD examined small gatherings and the COVID link in the article “Assessing the Association Between Social Gatherings and COVID-19 Risk Using Birthdays.” According to the authors, “In addition to large gatherings of people, small social gatherings are thought to be an important source of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.” 

According to the CDC, the seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in the United States on January 8, 2023, was 41,045. On November 17, 2022, just before Thanksgiving, that number was 21,611.

According to the article “How can people safely get together? What are the limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings?” at the New Jersey COVID-19 Information Hub, “COVID-19 remains a threat, particularly at indoor gatherings with unvaccinated individuals.” Safety tips include getting vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, getting a COVID-19 booster, and gathering with those already fully vaccinated

Due to a combination of factors, including the XBB.1.5 variant and small holiday gatherings, COVID-19 cases spiked in early 2023 after the 2022 holidays. According to the CDC, the seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in the United States on January 8, 2023, was 41,045. On November 17, 2022, just before Thanksgiving, that number was 21,611. 

Cameron Webb, JD, MD , a senior policy advisor for COVID-19 Equity on the White House COVID-19 Response Team, told the AmNews that “there is an important balance between supporting businesses and keeping yourself and your family safe.” He added that “We still want to make sure our restaurants are getting what they need…but at the same time [we must] keep ourselves safe and we know how to do that so I would say…we have to continue as a public health community to really message to everybody that everyone should be thinking about what they need to do to keep themselves safe and keep the people around them safe. I know our local public health leaders, our state public health leaders all over the country are chewing on that very question.”

What precautions can people take to safeguard themselves if they attend small gatherings? According to a previous article in the AmNews, wear high-quality masks, get vaccinated and get the bivalent booster, get tested for COVID-19 before going to the gathering, and stay home if you are sick. Additional precautions include: avoid being in small rooms that are not well-ventilated; limit going to gatherings that will be especially crowded; and test for COVID-19 both before and after being at small gatherings.

“…it’s not just COVID out there right now; it’s RSV, there’s influenza A,” said Webb. “You put those together, there’s a lot of reasons why you may end up getting sick or under the weather over the next couple of weeks and so a lot of reasons for people to take a good look at what they’re doing to stay safe.” 

For additional resources about COVID-19, visit or call 311.

COVID-19 testing and vaccination resources can be accessed on the AmNews COVID-19 page:

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1 Comment

  1. Fresh fear mongering for absolutely no reason. Bow your head in shame. What’s the fatality rate for XBB.1.5? how about you post some actual facts instead of embarrassing yourselves

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