Can The COVID-19 Test Detect The Omicron Variant?

The Omicron variant has not yet been detected in the United States, but it may already be here, and even if it isn't, it soon will be (per Wall Street Journal). When the day inevitably comes (if it hasn't already), will we be prepared with tests that will tell us if someone has the variant?

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that PCR tests are able to detect COVID-19 in people who have the Omicron variant, but that studies are still being conducted to determine whether or not rapid antigen detection tests can do the same. Rapid tests do show promise, according to ReliefWeb.

As Time explains, most COVID-19 lab tests can detect Omicron as COVID-19 because the tests deliberately "target parts of the virus that don't change much" from variant to variant. On the other hand, just because a lab test detects all COVID-19 variants doesn't necessarily mean that it can tell you which variant you have.

Most tests can't tell you if you have the Omicron variant specifically

If you had the Omicron variant, there is a good chance you would test positive for COVID-19. However, receiving most lab tests wouldn't tell you that you had the Omicron variant specifically.

Dr. Emily Landon, infectious disease specialist and chief hospital epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, tells NBC Chicago that when you get tested for COVID-19, the test is looking solely for whether or not you have COVID-19, and not looking for the specific variant you have.

But there is one exception: The chief operating officer of Thermo Fisher Scientific, Mark Stevenson, claims that the company's TaqPath COVID-19 assay can show whether an infection is caused by the Omicron variant.

In order to know the specific variant a person has, a test sample has to be sent to a lab that has the equipment necessary for genetic sequencing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is mainly important for surveillance purposes.

What is most important for a sick person is to know whether they have the virus at all. Landon explains that COVID-19 shares symptoms with many other viruses, so it is important for sick people to get tested for COVID-19.