What You Need to Know About the New COVID-19 Variants


As of December 7, 2021, North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases averaged a total of 2,735 per week. We are in a much better position from when schools reopened in August of this year. However, recently, a new variant emerged in South Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as “Omicron,” after the Greek letter for “small o.” Some say that we should be concerned, while others say it’s just like any other, but, what is true?

The CDC defines variants as “a viral genome (genetic code) that may contain one or more mutations.” Essentially, a variant is a strain of COVID-19 that has mutated. Some variants are classified as “Variants of Concern”, such as the Delta, Alpha, Gamma, and Omicron variants. These variants have increased transmissibility, hospitalization and mortality rates. The Delta variant first emerged in India during mid-June of 2021, the first US case was also identified around the end of June to early July. Delta was named far more contagious than the variants we’ve had before. 

Omicron was first identified on November 24, 2021, but the earliest case emerged on November 9, 2021 in South Africa. In the US, the first confirmed case was reported on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. As of December 7, twenty of the fifty US states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) have reported Omicron cases; North Carolina has not reported an Omicron case.  In a White House Briefing on December 7, 2021, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden, stated, “The Omicron variant seems to be less severe than Delta.” He has also said that it’s too early to determine the precise severity of the disease. “In fact, it might be and I underscore might be, less severe as shown by the ratio of hospitalizations per number of new cases,” Fauci added. But, he also explained that the hospitalizations rate could be lower because more younger people are testing positive, since they are less likely to be hospitalized. Overall, we should be careful until we get more clarity about the new variant as well as what we can do to help prevent it.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the most important steps you can take are to wear masks, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as frequently as possible, and most importantly,  get vaccinated. The Johns Hopkins Department of Medicine also recommends getting the booster dose as soon as you’re eligible. The CDC recommends the booster dose if you are eighteen or older and if you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago or received both doses of either the Moderna/ Pfizer vaccines at least six months prior. Please check with your local pharmacies, state and local vaccination sites or mobile vaccination clinics for more information. If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or any other related symptoms, it is recommended to get tested. It’s also recommended to get tested if you have come in contact with someone that has tested positive or have traveled to regions with high COVID-19 rates.   

For more information on COVID-19, please visit cdc.gov