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Is omicron the most infectious COVID variant yet?

Why the omicron variant might be so contagious and what that means for the future of omicron

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People wear protective face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commuters wear protective face masks as they walk through a subway station, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts continue to worry that the omicron coronavirus variant may be more transmissible than delta, which would be a troubling new turn for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andre Penner, Associated Press

Experts continue to worry that the omicron coronavirus variant may be more transmissible than delta, which would be a troubling new turn for the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is omicron?

Researchers in South Africa rang the alarm over Thanksgiving on a new coronavirus variant that had already been spreading in parts of the continent, as I wrote for the Deseret News. It was discovered later that the variant may have been moving through Europe even earlier.

  • Scientists said the variant reportedly had dozens of mutations that make it easier to spread and infect humans. The variant might also evade COVID-19 vaccines, but it could take some time to see if that’s true or not.

Is omicron worse than delta?

Dr. Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told NPR that the omicron variant surprised people.

  • “All of a sudden, there’s this creature with all these mutations — and I mean a lot of mutations,” Luban said, per NPR.

He told NPR that omicron is likely more transmissible than the delta variant, which became one of the most transmissible COVID-19 variants out there.

  • “Everyone is afraid that omicron will be significantly more transmissible than delta. Upon first impression, it looks like it could be,” he said. “But that could be totally wrong. Right now, nobody knows. The problem is that our data is very limited.”

Pei-Yong Shi, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said the omicron variant looks like it’s going to outpace other variants.

This is a potentially dangerous sign for the pandemic as other notable variants — such as lambda and mu — did not spread far and wide because they were outpaced by the delta variant, as per the Deseret News. A virus that can spread fast and easier than delta means there might be a new dominant variant in town, putting more people at risk for infection.