As the holiday season arrives in the U.S., the omicron COVID-19 variant arrives with it. We’ve put together this list of local resources to help you and your family stay healthy this holiday. Many of us missed out on being home for the holidays last year, so we’ve ordered the list to prioritize the things that will guide your decisions for your holiday gatherings with your friends and family.
Get Vaccinated (or boosted)
Since becoming first available in mid-December 2020, nearly 500 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the US. While it was challenging for adults to get a vaccine before, it’s now as easy as visiting a nearby convenience or grocery store. Everyone 5 years of age and older are now eligible. Talk to your doctor about your specific health concerns, conditions, and getting vaccinated.
To find the nearest location administering a COVID-19 vaccine, visit https://www.vaccines.gov/. You can filter the results by age range, vaccine manufacturer, and even whether appointments are necessary.
There are several options to test for COVID-19. First, there are two types of tests to consider. The polymerase chain reaction test, or PCR test, is considered the “gold standard” with its 98% accuracy rate, but takes 24-36 hours to get results from the lab. A faster test, known as the “rapid antigen test”, can provide results within 15 minutes, but the trade-off is a 90% accuracy rate.
Once you pick the type of test you prefer, you can then decide where to receive the test – public sites, private clinics, and even at-home. In general, locations within the perimeter are experiencing the longest lines. If you are willing to head outside 285, you will experience a shorter wait time.
Almost all sites – whether public, commercial, or private – will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Public COVID-19 Testing Sites
DeKalb County now operates two public testing sites – one in Chamblee and another in East Atlanta. They are open M-F, 9 am to 2pm; appointments are required.
Fulton County operates 3 locations across north, central, and south Fulton. Hours vary by location Monday through Friday, but also offer limited hours Saturday morning; appointments are encouraged by walk-ins and are allowed at the one off Boulevard.
Commercial COVID-19 Testing Sites
CVS, Walgreens, and even Walmart offer free COVID-19 testing for ages 3 and up. Some offer both, while others offer only one, so make sure you check first. All require appointments and availability can fill up fast.
The Georgia Department of Public Health provides a helpful commercial testing site look-up by zipcode (includes urgent care, physician clinics, pharmacies, and more).
Drive-up COVID-19 Mobile Clinics
Viral Solutions has 10 mobile locations around Atlanta, plus a few mobile clinics in the parking lot of pediatric hospitals. They offer only PCR tests and promote results within 48 hours; they also offer vaccinations and boosters. Most locations are open M-F, 8 am to 6 pm. Some locations are also open Saturday and even Sunday for a few hours. Holiday Hours: Open 8 a.m.-3 p.m on New Year's Eve; Closed New Year's Day.
Test4Free has 4 mobile locations in mall parking lots near Alpharetta, Dunwoody, Buckhead, and Vinings. They offer both rapid antigen and PCR testing; you can even take both at the same time for results with a few hours or 24-36 hours, respectively. They also offer vaccines for ages 5 and above. They are open M-F, 8 am to 6pm, with most locations Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 5 pm. Appointments are encouraged, but unscheduled drive-ups are creating hour-long wait times regardless of your appointment time.
Emergent Testing offers 7 mobile locations mostly outside the 285 perimeter. They provide only “same-day” RT-PCR testing (n.b. this is currently within 24-48 hours due to holiday surge), vaccinations/boosters, and even monoclonal antibody treatment. They are open M-F, 7:30 am to 6:00 pm, as well as Saturday and Sunday hours. Pre-registrations and appointments are necessary. They are open until noon on New Years Eve only.
COVID Care GA offers 6 locations in mostly shopping center parking lots both in and outside the 285 perimeter. They provide pretty much everything – rapid antigen test within 2 hours, RT-PCR test results within 24-36 hours, both Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations/boosters. They are open M-F, 9 am to 5pm; some locations are open Saturdays and even Sundays 9 am to 2 pm. No appointment is necessary, which has resulted in longer wait times in the past few days. They are open until noon on New Year's Eve only.
There are a half dozen FDA-approved at-home test kits. These are all rapid antigen tests, and thus with results available within 15 minutes. They are often sold in a 2-pack – probably to account for the 1-in-10 false-negative accuracy issue mentioned earlier. They range in price from $15-$35 for a 2-pack.
The most common brands are Abbot's BinaxNow Kit and QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test Kit. Avoid the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test; they experienced issues with both a product recall as recently as November 2021 and a security breach.
Unfortunately, both brick-and-mortar and online stores are reporting daily stock outages. Call ahead to confirm availability.
Wear a Mask
The highly contagious Omicron variant requires that we up our mask game this holiday season. The CDC provides some clear direction – 2 layers, washable, completely covers face snugly – but once you start looking for a mask it can get complicated. So let’s simplify it.
The most effective masks are labeled N95, KN95, and KF94. They filter the virus the best, are widely available and are disposable. Unfortunately, because they are expensive they are also prone to counterfeits. Find a credible source at https://www.projectn95.org/
The next best mask to consider is surgical masks. They are readily available, disposable, and inexpensive.
Finally, 2-ply cloth masks. Because they can be washed and re-used, they are often the most comfortable, too. You can even wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask.
At the end of the day, the best mask is the mask that you wear. Just make sure it is snug without gaps around the face. For example, kids should wear a mask that fits a kid’s smaller face.
If you do receive positive test results or are sick, follow these steps from the CDC:
- Stay home except to get medical care
- Separate yourself from other people
- Do not share personal household items
- Monitor your symptoms
- Call ahead before visiting your doctor
- If you are sick, wear a mask over your nose and mouth
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Clean your hands often
- Avoid sharing personal household items
- Clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day
CDC shortened the recommended time for COVID-19 isolation and quarantine. Learn more about what to do if you test positive or have close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 HERE