COVID-19 Variant FAQs
Below are frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the variants of COVID-19, including the Delta and Omicron variants.
How can I tell which variant I have? Do labs report that to the state?
That information may not be readily available. The viral tests that are used to determine if a person has COVID-19 are not designed to tell you what variant is causing the infection. Identifying COVID-19 variants requires a special type of testing called genomic sequencing. Due to the volume of COVID-19 cases, sequencing is not performed on all viral samples. However, public health surveillance can detect which variants account for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, so there is a strong likelihood that a positive test result indicates infection with the current, most common variants.
Do variants have different symptoms? If so, what are they?
Because variants are of the same virus—SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19—the symptoms and the emergency warning signs are the same. However, some variants may spread more easily or may cause more severe symptoms and illness. Because of this, scientists are actively monitoring and studying new variants to learn more about how easily they spread, whether they make people more or less sick, and how well they respond to existing vaccines, treatments, and tests.
Is Texas tracking variants of COVID-19?
Yes. Public health officials at the federal, state, and local levels continue to study variants, monitor their spread, develop strategies to slow their spread, and test how variants may respond to existing therapies, vaccines, and testing. For information on variants of concern in Texas, see the Variants and Genomic Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in Texas section of the DSHS website.
Who is most at risk of contracting a variant of COVID-19?
Unvaccinated people are most at risk of contracting COVID-19, including any of its variants. The most recent variants, Delta and Omicron, are more contagious than other known variants and spread most rapidly in communities with fewer fully vaccinated people.
The absolute best protection for yourself and those close to you is staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccine is the best protection from COVID-19’s worst effects and lowers your chances of spreading the virus. Highly vaccinated communities protect more lives and avoid disruptions to our healthcare system, economy, and daily lives.
Are the newer variants worse than the early COVID-19 strains? Will a variant make me sicker than previous strains?
The more recent variants appear to spread much more easily than past known variants, which means they’re more contagious than other variants. We are still learning whether new variants may put infected people at higher or lower risk of hospitalization than past variants.
What’s the treatment for patients with a COVID-19 variant?
There are different treatment options available for all COVID-19 variants, but some treatments may be more effective for certain variants. In many cases, treatments are reserved for certain high-risk groups. If you or a loved one is sick, check with your healthcare provider about your specific case.
What is the current travel guidance?
Travel recommendations may vary depending on whether you are fully vaccinated or not. Some travel destinations may have different requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers.
Keep in mind that travel and other guidance may change as we learn more about the virus variants and breakthrough cases. Stay up to date with travel recommendations by visiting the Travel page of the CDC website.
Are people of certain ages at higher risk for infection with the newer variants?
Yes. Anyone who is not fully vaccinated is at greater risk of getting COVID-19. Anyone who is old enough and able to get the vaccine should do so to protect those who are unable to get it, as well as those for whom the vaccine is less protective. That includes children under age 5 and people with certain medical conditions. It's also important for those people who qualify to get the booster dose, too.
How many known variants are there?
There are many. Because viruses constantly change through mutation, new variants occur all the time. Sometimes they disappear, and sometimes they persist. Variants are classified in four ways, from least to most severe: Variants Being Monitored, Variants of Interest, Variants of Concern, and Variants of High Consequence.
What are the differences between the variants?
Variants vary by their genetic markers. These differences in genetic markers may affect how easily the virus is spread, the severity of illness, how well existing tests can detect the virus, the effectiveness of treatments and vaccines, and more.
Each variant is slightly different. Think of variants like branches on a tree. Each branch is slightly different than others on the tree, but they have similarities, too. Scientists study the differences in COVID-19 variants, so they can label and track them according to those differences.
Do the vaccines protect against new variants?
So far, available data suggest that the vaccines are effective against severe disease and hospitalization caused by variants that are currently circulating. The best protection against any COVID-19 variant is getting fully vaccinated. And a booster dose of vaccine is a proven way to maximize the protection against infection and severe disease.
See data from the COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by Vaccination Status Dashboard for the effects of vaccination on COVID-19 cases and deaths in Texas.
This page is being updated as new information becomes available.