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What Is the Incubation Period for Omicron?

August 28, 2022

What Is the Incubation Period for Omicron?

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is just one of the myriad strains of the coronavirus that continues to pose challenges to public health systems and wellbeing across the globe. With a shorter incubation period and a higher rate of transmission, there is still much to learn about Omicron. 

This article highlights information about the incubation period for this new variant, what Omicron’s shorter timetable means for you and your health, and how faster testing is one of the most effective ways to interrupt the spread of infection. 

At The I.V. Doc, we offer a range of COVID-19 testing services. We want to help you feel empowered to make informed and safe decisions when it comes to protecting yourself and your loved ones against the latest variant of concern. 

Keep reading for everything you want to know about Omicron — and how our at-home COVID-19 services can help support you and your health.

What, Exactly, Is the Incubation Period?

You probably have heard about shorter incubation periods with the Omicron coronavirus variant, but it’s really important to get specific about what that really means. In an attempt to best understand the timeline of the coronavirus disease 2019, and its variants, it’s good to start with the point of infection and move from there. 

If you are exposed to someone with a COVID-19 infection, then the period between when you were exposed and when you start exhibiting symptoms is known as the incubation period. 

This is the most critical part of COVID and its variants to pay attention to, because this is the time in which you are highly contagious to other people — but might not yet know that you are infected. 

Why Is the Omicron Incubation Period So Important To Pay Attention To? 

When it comes to the Omicron variant, the incubation period is the most important element to pay attention to. Why? Because the incubation period with Omicron is significantly shorter than the original COVID-19 strain. 

This means that the time between which you are exposed to the infection and when you start to exhibit symptoms is markedly shorter than the original COVID-19 strain. Your infectiousness makes it easier to spread the virus to others.

In a study published by the CDC, it was revealed that the incubation period of the SARS-Cov-2 Omicron variant is around 3 days or 73 hours. There was some variance. Some participants exhibited symptoms as early as 33 hours and others didn’t show symptoms until after 75 hours. 

However, the majority of people involved in the subvariant study showed symptoms within the 73-hour window. 

What Are Omicron Symptoms? 

There appear to be different clusters of symptoms that are more prominent with each coronavirus variant. With Omicron COVID-19 cases, the symptoms present generally include congestion, runny nose, a cough, and fatigue. 

While the Omicron symptoms tend to be milder than some of the previous variants, Omicron is highly contagious: milder symptoms do not equate to a lower rate of contagiousness. 

What Does a Shorter Incubation Period Mean?

As we’ve previously stated, a shorter incubation period with an Omicron infection doesn’t yield a less contagious virus. On the contrary, Omicron is highly contagious. It’s possible someone could be in close contact with others before their own symptom onset. 

While there are a number of different reasons for why this variant is more contagious, it is likely that Omicron is more easily transmissible because 30 of Omicron’s mutations attach to the virus’s spike protein. Spike proteins attach to human cells and are believed to increase the probability of infection. 

Let’s take a more in-depth look at what, exactly, a shorter incubation period means. 

You Might Get Sick More Quickly

Though this may seem obvious, a shorter incubation period means that you might get sick with Omicron much more quickly than with the original COVID-19 strain. With an average 73-hour incubation period, you are more likely to become infected with Omicron and start exhibiting symptoms within a few days. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reduced the isolation period to 5 days because, while you are likely to exhibit symptoms more quickly since the incubation period is also shorter with Omicron, you are also less likely to be contagious after that five-day period. 

If you are up-to-date on all your vaccinations, the CDC does not require that you quarantine in isolation if you suspect that you have been exposed to Omicron. However, if your vaccination status is incomplete or you are entirely unvaccinated, it is recommended that you quarantine for five days. 

Shorter Incubation Means You Want To Test Sooner 

One of the best things you can do if you suspect you have been exposed to infected people with Omicron is to get tested as soon as possible. And yet, how often have you gone online to schedule a rapid test and found that same-day tests aren’t available for weeks? 

One of the most frustrating things about scheduling a rapid COVID test is if you can’t do it, well, rapidly. That’s where The I.V. Doc comes in. In addition to our comprehensive range of intravenous fluid hydration and wellness services, we offer rapid, PCR, and travel COVID testing services to better support you. 

With a shorter incubation period with Omicron, you’ll want to get tested as soon as you suspect that you may have been exposed to someone who has it. With The I.V. Doc, you can hop online and schedule a rapid test for the same day. 

One of the registered nurses on our healthcare team of medical professionals will travel to you – in the comfort of your home, hotel room, or office – and administer an anterior nasal swab test. You’ll have results that day and a physician is assigned to work with you afterward. 

A shorter incubation period means that you’ll want to get tested sooner. We’ve got you covered during the current pandemic. 

Getting Tested for Omicron

With a significantly shorter incubation period than the original COVID-19 strain and the Delta variant, Omicron also means a shorter window to get tested. So, which test is best for detecting Omicron?

Both the PCR and antigen tests will work, as they do for any COVID-19 variant, by detecting the virus in your body. While no test is 100% accurate, the PCR test, rapid test, and antigen tests are all effective at detecting the virus. 

What’s the Difference Between a PCR, Rapid, and Antigen Test?

There are so many different kinds of tests that it might get confusing figuring out the differences between tests and knowing which one you should take. Here’s a brief breakdown. 

The PCR test is a laboratory-based test that uses either a nasal or oral sample to detect the coronavirus. 

A rapid test, which The I.V. Doc offers as a service that can be done same-day and in the comfort of your home, is also administered either nasally or orally and yields results within the hour. 

While PCR tests are considered the most accurate, if you’re in a time crunch or are seeking results immediately due to potential exposure, a rapid test is the way to go. 

Should I Quarantine While Waiting For Test Results?

The short answer is yes. However, according to CDC guidelines, if you are up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccine and you aren’t exhibiting symptoms, then you don’t need to quarantine. 

If, however, you did not get vaccinated and are exhibiting symptoms, then it is recommended that you quarantine for five days. If you are already exhibiting symptoms and don’t want to leave your home or happen to become exposed while traveling, The I.V. Doc is here to help. 

We offer a broad range of COVID-19 testing services, which includes our PCR test for travel. The process is simple and removes the frustration of scheduling a test and having to wait days to be seen. 

One of our registered nurses will come to you at home, at the office, or in your hotel room and administer an anterior nasal swab test. These are painless and significantly more comfortable than the nasopharyngeal swab test. 

Once the test is completed, your swab will be sent to the lab for analysis, and you will be assigned a physician on our team to work with you through the next steps. At The I.V. Doc, we are here to help you through every step of the way. 

The Bottom Line 

Omicron is far more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19 due to the way it interacts with your body's cells and its shorter incubation period. What does this mean for you? 

Pay close attention if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for Omicron, and be mindful of the shorter incubation period. 

Though the quarantine period is five days, the Omicron incubation period is, on average, 73 hours. That shortened window means that you might start showing symptoms within 1-2 days of being exposed — and means you may need to quarantine if you aren’t up-to-date on all your vaccinations.


Omicron, Delta, Alpha, and More: What To Know About the Coronavirus Variants | Yale Medicine

COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation | CDC

What We Know About Quarantine and Isolation | CDC

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