What we know about the omicron variant

A sign tells people to wear a face covering.
A sign telling people to wear a face covering is displayed at Heathrow Terminal 5 on Nov. 28 in London. Following the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant, whose mutations suggest greater transmissibility than previous virus strains, the United Kingdom imposed new restrictions on arriving travelers.
Hollie Adams | Getty Images file

A new variant of the COVID-19 virus has emerged: the omicron variant. The variant was first detected in Botswana and South Africa in November. The first case reported in the U.S. was found in California on Wednesday and Minnesota on Thursday reported its first case of the variant, found in a Hennepin County resident who’d traveled recently to New York City. Cases have also been confirmed in Canada, Spain, Germany, China and other countries

Because it’s so new, little is known about the variant. Is it more contagious? Is it more likely to make people seriously ill? Or is it more resistant to vaccines than other variants?

Guest host Catharine Richert talked with infectious disease specialists about what we know about the variant, what we don’t know and what it means at this stage in the pandemic. 


  • Dr. Priya Sampathkumar is an associate professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic and infectious disease researcher. 

  • Dr. Mark Schleiss is a professor of pediatrics in the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Use the audio player above to listen to the program.

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