COVID-19 Variants

What We Know About Variants

  • Viruses change all the time—this is normal and expected. These changes can happen when a virus moves from person to person. When a virus changes, the new version is called a variant. There are multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. Learn more about variants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Scientists and health and medical experts are studying these variants to understand how changes to the virus affect how it spreads and how it infects people. To better understand what variants are, how they form, and how they spread, listen to this episode of the Public Health Out Loud podcast.
  • Variants are found all over the world. The CDC is keeping track of these variants and posts updates to a web page about COVID-19 variants.
  • Some variants spread more easily and quickly than other variants. This means they can cause more cases of COVID-19, which can lead to more hospitalizations and more deaths. Some variants may also impact our treatments, vaccines, and tests. We call these “variants of concern.”
  • COVID-19 variants of concern are now dominant in Rhode Island. RIDOH is monitoring these variants and posting data on the COVID-19 Data Tracker.
  • Data suggest that COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States offer protection against all current COVID-19 variants. For information about staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines, visit
  • We can all help prevent these variants from spreading by following basic guidance to protect your household. This helps Rhode Island’s families, businesses, and economy. Wear a mask indoors near anyone you don’t live with if the state becomes a high-risk area, follow quarantine and isolation requirements, get tested often, and get vaccinated when it’s available to you.

The Omicron Variant

  • Currently, nearly all COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island are caused by the Omicron variant. Omicron is highly contagious and spreads more easily than the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the Delta variant.
  • Among other prevention measures, the CDC recommends that everyone age five and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by staying up to date with their vaccines. Staying up to date includes getting a booster dose if you are eligible.
  • For more information, visit the CDC web page Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know.

What Rhode Island is Doing

RIDOH State Health Laboratories coordinate the SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance program in partnership with the CDC and clinical and academic laboratories. This means we are sequencing and analyzing a representative selection of samples of the virus circulating in the state to identify differences between these samples and the genetic material of the original virus. 

The results of these analyses are posted on the Variant page of the COVID-19 Data Tracker.