COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a virus (SARS-CoV-2). It is very contagious and can easily spread.
COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Infected people have had a wide range of symptoms reported – from mild symptoms to severe illness. It sometimes feels like a cold or flu, but it can also harm other parts of the body.
Some people – like older adults and people with underlying medical conditions – are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
COVID-19 vaccines offer the best protection. The safe, effective vaccines reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death.
Some people with COVID-19 experience long-term effects from their infection. This is known as post-COVID conditions or long COVID.
Even people who do not have symptoms at first can experience long-term complications. Some symptoms last four or more weeks. Even mild COVID-19 can cause long-term shortness of breath, chest pain and brain fog.
Viruses are always changing (mutating). These changes are known as variants, or new strains. A new strain is slightly different than the previous strain. Learn more on how variants work.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists Omicron as a variant of concern.
Evidence suggests that Omicron is two to three times more contagious than the Delta variant. This makes it four to six times more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus.
Anyone infected with Omicron can spread the virus to others. You can still spread COVID-19 regardless of your vaccination status and even if you don’t have symptoms.
Generally, Omicron is less severe than prior variants. People who are at higher risk may still have severe disease, need hospitalization and could die. A surge in cases could lead to significant increases in hospitalization and death.
In August 2023, the CDC detected a new variant, BA.2.86. This variant is notable because it has multiple genetic differences from previous variants.
Based on what we know now, the following tools appear to be effective with this new variant:
BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have had COVID-19 before. It may also be capable of causing infection in people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
An updated COVID-19 vaccine is forthcoming, expected as early as mid-September 2023.
We now have a robust toolbox to manage our risk from COVID-19:
- Get vaccinated for the best protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death. The risk is much higher for people who are not vaccinated.
- Wear a tight-fitting mask for an extra layer of protection. Wash your hands often and wait six feet from others.
- Get tested if you feel sick or have been exposed to COVID-19. And if you test positive, treatments are available.
NCDHHS has updated its COVID-19 dashboard to reflect the best metrics for this stage of the pandemic. As trends rise and fall, you can choose to add layers of protection to mitigate your risk.
Download My COVID-19 Plan, a fillable form that helps prepare you in case you get sick with COVID-19.