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How does omicron compare to other COVID variants?

Omicron is now the dominant strain in the United States. We take a look at how it compares to previous variants.

DENVER — The rush is on. Not for gifts to put under a tree, but for COVID tests before loved ones gather for the holidays.

“The testing lines out the door are definitely a combination of things. The omicron virus has people worried. And I think that everybody traveling and getting tested beforehand is a great thing,” National Jewish Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carrie Horn said.

The omicron variant now accounts for more than 70% of U.S. coronavirus cases.

Horn said omicron is more infectious than any previous variant, including alpha and delta.

“You can see that alpha was more infectious than the original virus. And so you saw that take over from the original virus in terms of the number of cases fairly quickly. And then when delta came along you can see that delta just very clearly outpacing alpha very quickly,” Horn said.

Now, omicron is outpacing delta, although it has yet to be detected in all 50 states.

“Once it got here, obviously, it’s taken off like wildfire,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, UC Health Senior Medical Director of Infection Prevention.

RELATED: Omicron-driven COVID-19 surge hitting Eagle County ‘like nothing we have ever seen’

Health officials said this spreading leaves them concerned about what's next. 

“As flu starts to pick up and some of the other respiratory viruses are going around, the hospitals are really stretched thin and the healthcare system is struggling. If omicron is going to cause more cases, and if more of those people end up hospitalized, then that’s going to be an even bigger strain on an already stressed system,” Horn said.

They are also concerned about the potential for more mutations, since omicron spreads so fast.

“What we're worried about is if omicron is really spreading into a lot of people very quickly and replicating very quickly, the chance of getting a mutation that makes it more harmful or more evasive to the vaccine is very real. And while we have not seen that yet, it could happen,” Horn said.

While the testing lines test your patience, Horn hopes the vaccination lines are just as long.

RELATED: Doctors warn to get COVID boosters now as omicron variant spreads

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