Last updated: January 18, 2022
What is the Omicron variant?
Omicron is a new variant of concern from the virus that causes COVID-19.
Why are we concerned about the Omicron variant?
We are still learning about Omicron, but early evidence suggests that:
- People may get reinfected more easily after recovering from COVID-19.
- It may transmit easier from person to person.
Is the Omicron variant likely to come to the United States?
The World Health Organization has said the variant poses a “very high” global risk and is likely to spread internationally.
Is Omicron as serious a health risk as the other variants? Is it more or less contagious?
The best way to prevent the spread of this new variant or any other variant is to get vaccinated, get a booster if you are eligible and to wear a mask in indoor public settings or in a crowded environment.
Are symptoms associated with Omicron different from other variants?
There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants. Initial reported infections were among university students—younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease—but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take several weeks. All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, particularly for most vulnerable people. Prevention is always key.
Are the vaccines effective against this variant?
While it is possible that current vaccines may be less effective against the Omicron variant, vaccine availability is limited in many African countries, South African officials are reporting that most of the people there who are sick due to the Omicron variant were not vaccinated.
Are the current COVID-19 tests able to detect Omicron?
The widely used PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron, as we have seen with other variants as well. Studies are ongoing to determine whether there is any impact on other types of tests, including rapid antigen detection tests.
Are the current treatments for COVID-19 effective against Omicron?
Current treatments will still be effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19.
I’ve just returned from travel. Is there anything I should do?
After a trip, travelers are recommended to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and isolate and get tested if symptoms develop.
The CDC recommends that all travelers returning from international travel get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after travel.
If you are not fully vaccinated, the CDC also recommends that you get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after returning from travel (domestic or international), and to stay home and self-quarantine for seven days after travel. If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
General Prevention Recommendations for COVID-19
The most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including the Omicron variant, include:
- Getting vaccinated and getting a booster if you are eligible. Vaccines are safe, free and effective.
- Testing for COVID-19 if you have symptoms and isolating if the results are positive.
- Wearing a mask indoors in public settings. Face masks are required in some health care facilities and on public transportation. Masks are the best way to slow the spread when around others outside your household. The two biggest risks are social gatherings and public dining, which bring people together who are not usually together. Keep your bubble of contacts as small as possible and do not let your guard down.
- Maintaining social distancing as much as possible, preferably at least 6 feet.
- Improving ventilation by opening windows and avoiding poorly ventilated or crowded spaces.
- Frequently and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Practicing proper respiratory etiquette, including coughing and sneezing into the back of your elbow or into a tissue. Immediately throwing away the tissue and washing your hands.