COVID-19 Variants

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 about how variants work

The best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection. You can help by taking measures to protect yourself. The most important measure is getting vaccinated and boosted

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists Omicron as a variant of concern. The CDC and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) are monitoring Omicron. Here’s how NCDHHS is tracking Omicron in our state.

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Omicron: What You Need to Know

Omicron has been detected in every state and territory. It continues to be the dominant variant in the United States.


Like other variants, Omicron has several subvariants:

  • B.1.1.529
  • BA.1
  • BA.1.1
  • BA.2
  • BA.3
  • BA.4
  • BA.5

The most common in North Carolina currently is BA.5. Find out which subvariants are being detected in N.C.


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. 
  • Even if you don’t have symptoms. 


People infected with Omicron have symptoms like those experienced with previous variants.

Learn more about symptoms.

Severe Illness and Death

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. 

Protecting Yourself and Others

Vaccines and Boosters

Getting vaccinated helps prevent the virus from spreading. It also helps keep variants from emerging. 

Current COVID-19 vaccines protect against: 

  • Severe illness 
  • Hospitalization 
  • Death 

Data shows protection from COVID-19 vaccines may weaken over time. But vaccines are still effective at keeping you from getting very sick with COVID-19. 

People who are vaccinated can still get infected with COVID-19. This is known as a breakthrough infection. Booster shots increase protection against Omicron. Vaccines and boosters help protect you from getting very sick. 

Learn more about how vaccines work against COVID-19 variants.

Testing and Treatment

As soon as you feel sick, it’s time to get tested for COVID-19. Getting tested has never been faster or easier.  

You can even test yourself at home. You can pick up home tests in your community, or get tests mailed to you.

Did you know there are treatments that are effective against Omicron? Learn more about treatments and what to do if you’re sick

Need fast access to treatment? Get tested and treated in one visit at a one-stop Test to Treat site. Find a Test to Treat site near you

Tracking Omicron

NCDHHS is tracking variants weekly to see which are increasing over time in the state. This early detection system helps guide North Carolina’s pandemic response.  

As cases rise, you may choose to add layers of protection to lower your risk. Get tips on layering protection

The NCDHHS Summary Dashboard shows which variants are being detected in North Carolina. More detailed data is available from our weekly respiratory report.

The CDC is also tracking variants. Visit the CDC Data Tracker for more information.