What we don’t know about the Omicron variant

A person in a lab coat sits at a computer terminal.
Sandile Cele, a researcher at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, studies the Omicron variant.
(Jerome Delay / Associated Press)

There’s a lot that we don’t know yet about Omicron, the coronavirus variant that’s powering the latest surge in infections. Reported to the World Health Organization less than a month ago, Omicron was responsible for almost three-fourths of U.S. coronavirus infections by Dec. 20.

It’ll take weeks, maybe months, to collect all the data for scientists to feel confident giving definitive answers. But Paula Cannon, a virology professor at USC Keck School of Medicine, said we should have a clearer picture in about two weeks.

“We should start to have a sense of whether or not this is going to be an incredibly infectious but potentially milder version of COVID, or whether it’s incredibly infectious and just as bad as every other version of COVID,” she said.

Here are some of the key questions that researchers are still trying to answer.

This report was written by Times staff writers Salma Loum, Madalyn Amato, Karen Garcia, Ada Tseng and Jon Healey. The Times Utility Journalism Team works to publish information that can solve problems, answer questions and help with decision making.