The gist: It’s beginning to look a lot like ….December 2020. Experts recommend reevaluating large gatherings and travel plans for the Christmas holiday as the omicron variant spreads, offices consider the risks of year-end celebrations, and restaurants are closing following outbreaks among staff.

Meanwhile, Philadelphians are scouring the city for COVID-19 tests, which would add an additional layer of security for those gathering this week. The good news is that while breakthrough cases are rising, the jabs are still protecting people against severe illness and death. Inquirer reporters also have you covered with tips on how to minimize risk of infection during the holidays.

📥 Tell us: How are you navigating restaurants right now? Send us a note, and we’ll share some of the most interesting responses in next week’s newsletter. Please keep it to 35 words.

— Ximena Conde (@XimenaReports, health@inquirer.com)

Omicron is spreading, and likely is why COVID-19 breakthrough cases are growing in Philly

With one week left in December, and more than 11,200 coronavirus cases for the month as of Tuesday, Philadelphia has already recorded its greatest number of COVID-19 cases in a single month since April. Still, it’s unclear how many cases can be pinned on the omicron variant and how sick people are getting from it. What we do know is the the majority of those who need to be hospitalized across Pennsylvania are unvaccinated and ICUs are once again being pushed to the limit.

“If things keep increasing, it’ll start feeling like last winter again,” said William Surkis, Main Line Health’s vice president for medical education. In response to the winter surge, businesses, event hosts, and residents are returning to tried-and-tested mitigation strategies:

  • Due to scheduling and a league-wide pause due to outbreaks in the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers won’t play again until Dec. 29

  • As many colleges moved finals online, some consider making boosters a requirement for the spring semester.

  • Proof of vaccination won’t be required to eat indoors at Philly restaurants until Jan. 3, but businesses are already ramping up testing among staff and establishing protocols for closure should outbreaks occur.

What you need to know

😷 Philly says it will enforce its vaccine requirements for indoor dining. But an Inquirer analysis shows the city has shut down only 19 restaurants for COVID-19 violations.

💉 Philly vaccination rates for Black and Hispanic children are lagging.

🏥 Philadelphia’s ability to track COVID-19 variants, like the rest of nation’s, is hobbled by a lack of resources.

🔬 COVID-19 may have killed people who never tested positive for the virus in 2020, a New Jersey report found.

🏠 Philly’s program that prevents evictions will continue through 2022.

🏫 The pause on student loan payments is extended through May 1.

Local coronavirus numbers

📈 Cases numbers continue to trend upward throughout the region. Track the latest data here.

Helpful resources

A dose of diversion: Get into the Christmas spirit with a Latino posadas and parranda

Get a crash course on Latin American celebrations with this story that comes with a festive video of Latino Christmas carolers.

🛒Don’t celebrate Christmas? Here’s a list of what’s open during the holiday. Also handy for those who celebrate.

🍸 Looking to celebrate the holidays sans booze? Here are 12 bars serving up tasty non-alcoholic cocktails in Philly.

🎵 Alas, Mariah Carey season is coming to a close for those who celebrate, but should you want to switch up your holiday playlist, Dan DeLuca’s got you covered.

A good thing: ‘The Nutcracker’ for pandemic times

While you won’t be able to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy up close and personal this season due to coronavirus precautions, a pair of sisters help a Philadelphia Christmas tradition go uninterrupted at the Academy of Music.

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