Date Last Updated: 1/11/22

What is the Omicron variant?
Omicron is the latest variant of COVID-19, and for better or worse it’s likely to blow through very fast. Omicron is more contagious and spreads quickly. The early data suggests illness is not as severe for vaccinated people who get infected. Without vaccine protection, there is still high risk for severe and life-threatening disease.

Who is the most at risk of contracting the Omicron variant?
People who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are at most risk of contracting and spreading the Omicron variant. A booster dose will also provide valuable additional protection.

Are the symptoms of the Omicron variant different than the original COVID-19 strain?
Yes, there have been reports where the symptoms associated with the Delta variant have differed from the symptoms associated with the original coronavirus strain.

What are the symptoms?
Generally, symptoms seem much milder than earlier COVID-19 variants, and Omicron can look more like a cold for those with a vaccine. Many people may think they simply have the sniffles or a mild cold.

From a public health perspective, Omicron still has the potential to overwhelm our healthcare system. If half as many people need to go to the hospital but 10 times as many are infected with Omicron, the math doesn’t work in our favor. We appreciate everyone doing their part with masking and vaccination so the healthcare system can take care of those people who will get very sick.

Are fully vaccinated individuals at risk of contracting and spreading the Omicron variant?
If you have received a full vaccine series, your risk is lower than someone who has not been vaccinated. Booster doses protect from severe disease and death, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as Omicron. However, there have been breakthrough cases across the U.S. If you are fully vaccinated and begin to experience symptoms, you should stay home from work, get tested, and stop the spread.

Know how it spreads

  • The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.
  • The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
    • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
    • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
    • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
    • Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

What Should I Do If I’m Exposed to COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has updated its guidance for isolation and quarantine for people who have been exposed to COVID-19. Everyone with a known exposure should attempt to test, if tests are available, 5 days after the known exposure. Mask at all times around others for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status. For those who are boosted and remain asymptomatic, no quarantine is required. For those who are overdue for a booster, a 5-day home quarantine is advised.

For a printable version of this flowchart, click here.

Follow mitigation efforts

Wash your hands often

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • It’s especially important to wash:
    • Before eating or preparing food
    • Before touching your face
    • After using the restroom
    • After leaving a public place
    • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
    • After handling your cloth face covering
    • After changing a diaper
    • After caring for someone sick
    • After touching animals or pets
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact

  • Inside your home: Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If possible, maintain 6 feet between the person who is sick and other household members.
  • Outside your home: Put 6 feet of distance between yourself and people who don’t live in your household.

Cover coughs and sneezes

  • Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow and do not spit.
  • Throw used tissues in the trash.
  • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Clean and disinfect

  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
  • If surfaces are dirty, clean them. Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
  • Then, use a household disinfectant. Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work.

Monitor Your Health Daily

  • Be alert for symptoms. Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Take your temperature if symptoms develop.
    • Don’t take your temperature within 30 minutes of exercising or after taking medications that could lower your temperature, like acetaminophen.
  • Follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.