COVID-19 Variant Information

What are variants and how are they created?

Once viruses enter the body, they start to reproduce, which causes them to change and become more diverse. The changes are then studied by scientists and if it causes a significant enough change to the structure of the virus and how it interacts with the body or the way it spreads, it is labeled as a variant.

Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants persist. Some variations allow the virus to spread more easily or make it resistant to treatments or vaccines. Those variants must be monitored more carefully. Currently, the CDC has divided these variants into three categories: variant of concern, variant of interest, variant being monitored, and variant of high consequence. 

Key Variants in Montana: 

As of January 18th,  Montana has had 338 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.  This past week, 100% of specimens collected and sequenced were of the Omicron variant with the remaining being of the Delta variant.

Information accurate to January 18, 2022. 

variant by date 1-18

For more information on COVID-19 variants, and specific variants in Montana, visit the DPHHS website. 

Variants of Concern

According to the CDC, a variant of concern seems to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on healthcare resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.

  • Delta: It was first identified in India in December 2020, but wasn’t detected in the United States until March 2021. This variant has an increased ability to be passed between individuals.  It may cause more than 2x as many infections as previous variants. Some data suggest the Delta variant might cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated persons.
  • Omicron: It was first identified in Botswana and South Africa in November 2021 and was detected shortly after on December 1, 2021 in the United States.  This variant may have increased ability to be passed between individuals.  Because this variant is very new, not enough research as been done to determine exactly what its ability to be passed between individuals may be or the severity of disease it may cause.

 More information can be found on the CDC website. 

CDC's Introduction to COVID-19 Variants

CDC's Detailed Explanation of Variants

Variants being monitored

According to the CDC, variants being monitored are no longer being detected or are at low levels in the United States, but there is data indicating a potential or clear impact on medical countermeasures or that these variants have been associated with more severe disease or increased transmission.

  • Iota:  It was first identified in the United States (New York) in November of 2020.
  • Eta: It was first identified in the United Kingdom and Nigeria in December of 2020.
  • Alpha: It was first identified in the United Kingdom, but was first detected in the United States in December of 2020. This variant has ~50% increased ability to be passed between individuals. It potentially has an increased severity based on hospitalizations and case fatality rates.
  • Gamma: It was first identified in Japan and Brazil.
  • Mu: It was first identified in Colombia. 
  • Epsilon: It was first identified in the United States (California).  It has ~20% increased ability to be passed between individuals.

 For more information, visit the CDC website