(ABC4) – Masks, vaccinations, boosters, and social distancing… all just about common language at this point in the pandemic in protecting ourselves from becoming infected with COVID-19. Doctors say these tools are even more pertinent with the newest variant, the omicron.

Dr. Todd Vento, Infectious Disease expert at Intermountain Healthcare says, “by virtue of its ability to stick to receptors in peoples noses and respiratory tracks more easily more people will get infected.” 

That’s because doctors say this new strain is more contagious, potentially making even more people sick, much faster. But just how much faster?

In the early stages of covid, the CDC warned that a person may become infected after roughly 15 minutes of exposure to someone with covid, with the newer strains, doctors say that exposure time is much shorter.

Monday, The Utah Department of Health reported a combined total of over 24,000 from this past weekend, while that does include the entire weekend, doctors say it’s still over two and half times the amount cases ever seen during Utah’s pandemic. The state’s current 7-day average for positive tests is nearly 7,800 cases per day.

Vento says with each progressive variant with a​ significant amount of infection the risk of becoming infected becomes greater compared to earlier strains.

“If I’m sitting on a bench in a restaurant and we are both unmasked with Wuhan strain there’s a chance I get it,” explains Vento. “Well, you start increasing the risk with every variant we’ve had.”

This is why doctors continue to stress the importance of masking in addition to boosted vaccinations for added protection.

“If someone sneezes in your face and it’s omicron I’d say you have a high chance of becoming infected,” explains Vento.

Even with breakthrough infections doctors say the risk of being hospitalized from omicron is much lower with vaccines and a booster.

“The reality is you can pretty much bet with high certainty you will not go into the hospital or die from omicron” adds Vento.

Vento says looking at current models from South Africa, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the east coast states like New York and Washington, D.C., omicron’s behavior looks as if cases are slowly beginning to peak.

Vento says considering that data and looking at states and countries with similar vaccine rates…it would suggest that we could see a peak as early as the end of January or early February, but that depends on where Utah stands in terms of immunity and vaccination status.