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COVID-19 Variant FAQs

  1. What is the Omicron Variant?
    • On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new variant, B.1.1.529, as a Variant of Concern and has named it Omicron. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country. We know what it takes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends people follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently, and physically distancing from others. CDC also recommends that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated. CDC encourages a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for those who are eligible.
  2. Which variants are spreading and how are they different?
    • The Delta variant and Omicron variant of COVID-19 are both spreading in our region. The Delta variant is two-six times more contagious from the original strain; which means there is significantly more of the virus in each droplet expelled into the air from an infected person’s respiratory tract and therefore more of a chance of infecting someone else. The Omicron variant is potentially three times more contagious than the Delta variant, but potentially causing less severe illness in many people.
  3. Why is this happening?
    • With infectious disease, the more it continues to spread, the more variants/ mutations take place. Until we are able to reach herd immunity and stop transmission, COVID will continue mutating to survive, including the potential to break through the vaccine.
  4. Are the variants more dangerous?
    • The risk of hospitalization from the Delta variant is roughly twice as high as the Alpha (B.1.1.7) variant.
    • More studies are needed to know if Omicron infections cause less severe illness or death, but early indications show this to be likely. 
    • Almost all hospitalizations are comprised of unvaccinated people, across all age groups.
    • In addition to breaking through the vaccine, variants are affecting younger and healthier populations at a higher rate.
    • Viral loads in an infected individual are higher with the variants, as a result, the incubation period is shorter (four to six days for Delta and three to five days for Omicron), meaning you may develop symptoms quicker. The quicker you increase your viral load, the harder it is for your body to fight.
  5. I am vaccinated—Can I still get COVID? Am I safe? Can I spread it?
    • The vaccination is effective against hospitalization and severe illness from variants.
    • Although the vaccine is effective against severe illness and hospitalizations, breakthrough infections (when vaccinated people have symptomatic COVID) are occurring. When this happens, the body’s immune system uses its memory to quickly make antibodies to fight the virus, but may not respond quickly enough to avoid mild-moderate symptoms. Once symptomatic, you can then spread the virus through droplets coming from your respiratory tract.
    • With the increase in breakthrough infections, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is recommending indoor masking regardless of vaccination status. Both California and Nevada are recommending or requiring indoor masking until more people can get vaccinated.
    • Masking is proven to reduce the spread of the virus.
  6. Can I still get post-COVID conditions (long-haul COVID) if I am vaccinated?
    • Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with COVID-19. Anyone, including vaccinated individuals and/ or asymptomatic individuals can have post-COVID conditions. Vaccination remains your best way to prevent COVID-19 infection.
  7. Are the COVID vaccines safe?
    • The vaccines are safe and effective.
    • The vaccine trials included all required phases and included enough participants to provide statistically valid information. No corners were cut, only red tape, meaning the trials were able to move faster, but still met testing regulations. 
    • With over 400 million doses given in the U.S., we now have much more information and side effects or safety issues have been rare.
    • There are a very small number of side effects that we now know of including myocarditis in boys, thromboembolism in women ages 18-49 years old, anaphylaxis, and Guillain Barre. These are all very rare occurrences. Current data shows the risk from the vaccine is significantly lower than the risk of COVID and its impacts on your health. If you are concerned you may be at risk for any of these issues, please discuss this with your primary care provider.
  8. Are boosters recommended?
    • The CDC recommends people ages 16 years and older receive a booster shot six months after completing their initial vaccination (teens age 16-17 must receive a Pfizer booster).
  9. What are the current guidelines for isolation and quarantine?
    • If you have COVID-19 you should isolate for 5 days; then, if you are asymptomatic or your symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow with 5 days of wearing a mask. If your symptoms are persistent, continue to isolate until your symptoms have improved and you are fever-free for 24 hours.
    • If you have been exposed to COVID (someone you live is sick and waiting for a test result, or you have been in contact with a confirmed positive person):
      • If you are vaccinated and boosted, you do not need to quarantine, though it is recommended to wear a mask for 10 days after an exposure. A COVID test is recommended 5 days after exposure, and if symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.
      • If you are unvaccinated or more than six months out from your vaccination (and not yet boosted), it is recommended you quarantine for 5 days, followed by 5 days of strict mask use. A COVID test is recommended 5 days after exposure, and if symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.
    • Additional information about quarantine and isolation >