What Do the Different COVID Variant Classifications Mean?

Often, there is a lot of fear and apprehension around COVID-related conversations and news segments. There are several reasons why it’s hard to talk about. There’s the length of the pandemic – we’ve now been in this thing for two years. There’s the spreading of misinformation, and so much more.

But there are also new terms coming out all the time, and we aren’t sure what they mean. For example, have you ever heard of a “variant of interest” or “variant of concern” before the pandemic started? Here are some helpful resources for understanding the status of each COVID variant and what it means.

variant of concern

What Are COVID Variant Classifications?

Variants form when a virus, like COVID-19, mutates. At any given time, thousands of viruses and their variants are being studied by scientists in an effort to understand and better prepare for situations like the current global pandemic.

And that means these variants need to be classified. A classification is a tool used in nearly every discipline and industry. For example, there are different types and stages of cancer, degrees of severity when it comes to burns, cuts, and strokes. And of course, every living organism gets classified and studied.

But what are the COVID variant classifications? Here are the 4 classifications, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Variant Being Monitored
  • Variant of Interest
  • Variant of Concern
  • Variant of High Consequence

This classification was created to help scientists and pandemic experts track COVID transmissions, including which variants are being spread quickly and which ones are waning or being replaced in a population.

So far, most of the important updates are communicated to us regarding the second and third classifications: the variant of interest and the variant of concern.

Variants Being Monitored

To get a classification that is designated as a “variant being monitored,” the COVID variant simply has to be present in CDC data.

These variants and their movements show that they have or could threaten a large population. But they also show that medical countermeasures (those actions taken to reduce COVID symptoms and long-term impact on individuals) have been present in the treatment of these variants.

The most important part of this classification, though, is that these variants are either no longer detected or are spreading at very low levels.

The assumed danger from these variants either hasn’t grown or is fading away rapidly.

Here is a list of the COVID variants that (as of the time of this article’s publication) are variants being monitored in the United States: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Zeta, and Mu.

The Alpha variant is what started all of this, but it’s very likely you haven’t heard of several of the other variants on this list. These are some of the least talked about currently, but as we move through the classifications, they become more concerning. For global COVID tracking data, you can visit the World Health Organization’s website, which is updated frequently.

Variant of Interest

A variant of interest shows more potential for infection and spread. There are several specific ways in which a variant of interest earns this classification, many of which include having genetic markers that have been shown to increase transmission, immune escape, and more.

Variants can also gain this classification with reports of increased case numbers and growing outbreak clusters.

They have created regional or community-based outbreaks, but they aren’t being transmitted rapidly across countries. There are currently no designated variants of interest being tracked by the CDC

Variant of Concern

The next logical step in the COVID variant classifications is the variant of concern. These variants have everything a variant of interest has, and then some.

Some attributes that may ratchet a variant of interest up to a variant of concern will be greater disease severity, increased hospitalizations and deaths, significant resistance to autoimmune responses (in other words, your body will have a harder time fighting it off), and reduced effectiveness of treatment and vaccines.

To become a variant of concern, a COVID strain only has to meet one of the abovementioned criteria.

Right now, both the Delta and Omicron variants are labeled variants of concern.

Variant of High Consequence

A variant of high consequence is the most severe classification for COVID variants. In addition to possessing characteristics of a variant of concern, these variants will be less effectively treated and will show up less frequently when testing is done with current testing methods.

There will also be a much higher rate of severe symptoms, hospitalizations, and deaths from this variant type.

There is good news – so far, no variants have been classified as a variant of high concern, which means that testing is still a great way to protect communities no matter what variants they are seeing a spike in their regions.

For more information about the classification of COVID variants, check out this resource from the CDC.

Variants are Ever-Changing: Protect Those Around You with Easy COVID Testing

Variant classifications are affecting communities at different rates, and while it’s important to know what variants are hitting your areas the hardest, the best thing you can do to protect yourselves and those around you is to follow the most recent CDC guidelines and test often when you are traveling in groups, even if that’s just from your community at work to your family at home.

Reliant Health Services has top-notch business and community testing services for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals that can be carried out in half the time, and at half the cost of many other services. Our turn-key workplace COVID-testing solutions make hitting weekly testing goals easy.

Whether your area is currently being hit hard by COVID or you are trying to ensure the health and safety of those who visit or work in your community, reliant can help.

If you need community testing, reach out to us today.