COVID-19 Variants

Omicron Variant (B.1.1.529) 

Omicron (B.1.1.529) is a new COVID-19 variant that was first detected in November in South Africa. Since the first case of the Omicron variant was detected in the U.S. on Dec. 1, is has quickly become the dominant strain throughout the nation. At the state level, where CDPHE tracks weekly proportions of variants of concern, 100 percent of samples sequence came back positive as the Omicron variant for the week of Dec. 26. The more transmissible Omicron variant is contributing to the rapid increases in local disease metrics in El Paso County.  

What’s different about the Omicron variant? 

Omicron appears to spread more quickly than the Delta variant. Omicron does appear to cause milder illness, although the risk of severe illness still exists and depends on many factors, including whether you are vaccinated and boosted, confirmed previous infection, age, and overall health and any comorbidities.  

NOTICE: The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and general prevention strategies needed to protect against COVID-19. Everyone 5 and older should get vaccinated and boosters are recommended for everyone 12 years and older. For more information, click here and here.

Photo of microscope

Delta Variant (B.1.617.2) 

The Delta variant was first identified in India and is now widespread across the world.

What’s different about the Delta variant? 

Variants of COVID-19 may be more easily transmissible (easier to become infected with and spread) and/or more severe (leading to worse symptoms, more hospitalizations and deaths). The Delta variant is more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus. While the Delta variant may be able to evade some antibodies in our immune systems, it’s important to note that current data suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the Delta variant.

Will the vaccine prevent me from contracting the Delta variant? 

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines appear to retain most of their effectiveness against the Delta variant. Vaccinated people who do contract the Delta variant tend to have milder reactions, and are much less likely to experience severe symptoms, hospitalizations or death. Data also suggests that vaccines reduce the odds of you transmitting the disease to others if infected. 

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself 

Getting a vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the Delta variant. Vaccination is likely to slow the spread of all the variants and reduce the odds that new, even more dangerous variants emerge.

About variants

Viruses constantly mutate, so new variants are to be expected. Sometimes new variants appear and simply go away, while others stay around. We know that there are multiple COVID-19 variants in the United States and across the world at this time.

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, a large family of viruses. Scientists monitor changes in the virus, including changes to the spikes on the surface of the virus. This field of study is helping scientists understand how changes to the virus might affect how it spreads and how sick it makes people.

Some COVID-19 variants seem to spread more easily and quickly, which means they could make more people sick. There is also early evidence that certain variants may also make people more sick. Experts are concerned that if a lot of people become sick at once, hospitals could become overcrowded and our health care system could be strained. That could potentially lead to more deaths. To prevent that from happening, you can take smart steps such as:

  • Getting vaccinated as soon as possible
  • Wearing masks in public indoor settings
  • Practicing social distancing
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Limiting the number of people at gatherings
  • Following quarantine and isolation recommendations if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 or you become sick.

Do I need to wear a mask?
El Paso County Public Health strongly recommends masks in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status, in alignment with CDC guidance. CDC now recommends wearing masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission, which includes El Paso County. Masks are required for unvaccinated people or those not fully vaccinated in specific settings outlined in Colorado Public Health Order 20-38, and for everyone within businesses, organizations, agencies or municipalities that request masks be worn. Masks are optional for those 11 or younger and for those who can’t medically tolerate it.

What you need to know

At this time, research trials show that the three COVID-19 vaccines — those made by Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) — greatly reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus, regardless of the strain of COVID-19 a person is infected with.

It’s very important that eligible people receive vaccines and a booster as soon as they can. To learn more about vaccines click here. To learn more about vaccine boosters click here.

It’s also important to know that should a COVID-19 variant ever severely impact the effectiveness of our vaccines, scientists and health officials are confident that the vaccines can be quickly adjusted to effectively combat the mutated virus with specialized booster shots. In fact, that’s exactly what scientists do with the flu vaccine every year, adjusting it to effectively fight the mutated flu virus.

Multiple variants are circulating globally

The CDC defines a variant of concern as: A variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g.,  increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.

The Variants of Concern in the United States at this time are the:

  • Delta variant (B.1.617.2) - identified in El Paso County
  • Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) - identified in El Paso County

At this point, research suggests that the Omicron and Delta variants spread more easily and quickly than the original virus, which can lead to increased cases of COVID-19.

For more information on variants, please visit the CDC.

To learn more about variants in Colorado, visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's COVID-19 Data web page. The COVID-19 Variant Sentinel Surveillance features information about the spread of many variants in Colorado, including the Delta and Omicron variants.