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What you need to know about the omicron variant

The omicron variant is a form of the COVID-19 virus that has spread throughout the United States and all parts of the world. 

Here is what we currently know about omicron from a variety of sources including the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

What are the symptoms of the omicron variant?

Currently, there is growing evidence the omicron variant might cause different symptoms than prior COVID-19 variants. Runny nose, like a cold, seems more common. Cough remains frequent, but sore throat may even be more likely. Fatigue still is common, but loss of taste and/or smell seem less than before, and some people are developing diarrhea when they get infected.

Many younger individuals who have been infected have mild cases, as compared to prior COVID variants. However, all forms of COVID-19, including omicron, have caused severe disease or death.

How easily does the omicron variant spread?

This variant seems to spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and recent variants. All the reasons for this are still being studied. This easier spread is the strongest reason to wear a mask in public and to maintain proper distance from others whenever possible.

Does the vaccine protect against omicron?

COVID-19 vaccination does protect against hospitalization and severe illness from the omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections have occurred and a booster after the primary vaccine series significantly improves protection against the virus. This is why boosters are strongly encouraged for everyone over the age of 16 years of age.

How do I test for the omicron variant?

Both the nucleic acid amplification tests (like PCR) and the antigen test can detect the omicron variant. When symptoms first develop, for the first two to three days the levels of virus may still be low and an antigen test may give a false negative. That is why a repeat test in three to five days is suggested (if the first one is negative and one is still sick) as by that time the virus load is higher and detected reliably by the antigen tests. Alternatively, a PCR can be done with symptom onset and will detect the virus (even with low virus levels). 

Can I get reinfected if I have already had COVID-19?

Yes, evidence has shown there is a higher risk of reinfection with the omicron variant, compared to other variants. This is why vaccine primary series and a booster is recommended even if you have had COVID-19 in the past.

This is still a developing situation and more information is to come in the coming weeks.

Last Updated: Jan. 21, 2022