On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization designated the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern and named it omicron, after the Greek letter.
The variant is not well-understood yet, and it's been detected in many countries since it was discovered.
Here's what we know and what we don't know about the new variant:
What we know
- Omicron has several mutations that could affect how it behaves, how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes.
- Those mutations make it easy to quickly identify with a nasal swab and a PCR test, according to The New York Times.
- Treatments such as corticosteroids and IL-6 receptor blockers are effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19, including illness caused by omicron.
- The variant was first identified in Botswana and South Africa.
- It has since been identified on every continent except Antarctica.
- U.S. officials have detected omicron in more than 20 states, including New York, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota and Hawaii.
- GlaxoSmithKline said its monoclonal antibody treatment is effective against omicron.
- Vaccine-makers believe they can easily tweak their formulas to bolster effectiveness against omicron and other new variants.
What we don't know
- Do the current vaccines provide ample protection?
- Is there a higher risk of people previously infected with COVID-19 becoming reinfected with omicron when compared to other variants?
- Is omicron more contagious than other variants?
- Do rapid antigen tests detect omicron as easily as other variants?