COVID testing for variants: what you need to know

Medically reviewed on November 2, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

While vaccinations have been a huge step in our fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, new COVID variants have added new wrinkles to a growing problem. Currently, the most dominant variant is the Delta strain, which has been shown to be more contagious than the initial COVID-19 strain. While there are several known variants of the coronavirus, the majority of the COVID-19 breakthrough cases are from the Delta strain.

One of the most important tools in the ongoing pandemic is testing. COVID testing allows for accurate diagnosis, and it provides useful information for the health community, which may then go toward more finite measures of protecting public health and preventing infections. Whether you do traditional testing at a clinic or use an at-home sample collection test, testing methods have evolved over recent months to become more convenient and reliable. Read on to learn more about COVID testing for variants.

Is there a COVID test for variants?

Simply put, no—there are no tests available to the public that will specifically tell you if you’re infected with a particular variant. Much of that comes down to the fact that, on an individual level, it doesn’t matter whether you tested positive for the initial strain or for Delta. The health guidance is the same for everyone even if there are multiple variants circulating. Essentially, even if you do test positive for Delta, the recommendations (staying quarantined, monitoring your symptoms, seeing your doctor if symptoms get worse) are all the same. While we don't know what will happen with future variants, all the known variants that are causing infection right now generally result in the same symptoms [1].

That is a little different when it comes to the health community and research. Epidemiologists and health experts need to know about Delta and other variants, and genomic sequencing tools assist with this. This can help to determine a community’s risk level and the potential spread of the new variant, which can hopefully lead to methods for protecting communities and mitigating risks [2].

How are variants detected?

The testing process available to the public is not different for variants vs. initial strain, and testing can be done with either molecular or rapid antigen tests. Molecular tests show current infections and are fairly accurate. The only downside is that they tend to take longer to process compared to rapid antigen tests. You will typically receive results in a few days to a week which will tell you if you are positive or negative for SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Following an initial COVID-19 test, labs would have to perform further tests and screening to determine if the infection was caused by a specific variant. This involves more complex genomic sequencing from labs at state, federal, and private levels and is not part of the regular testing process available to the public.

Rapid COVID antigen tests can be useful for diagnostic purposes and come with the bonus of quick results that can be concluded within minutes of submitting. However, these tests are less useful for researchers looking to identify potential variants.

Are there additional COVID-19 precautions for the new coronavirus variants?

The precautions for COVID-19 remain the same for all strains and variants. Wear a mask when you are indoors or in a crowded outdoor space, maintain physical distance, and practice good hygiene.

Most importantly, consider the COVID vaccine. All current statistics and research show that there is a high level of vaccine effectiveness. The full vaccination is 96 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations from Delta variant infection. You can still potentially contract the virus even if you are a fully vaccinated person with the COVID vaccine, but the chances of going to the hospital are extremely slim when you’re fully vaccinated. Furthermore, being a fully vaccinated person can reduce the severity and length of your illness [3].

Even though there might be breakthrough infections going on right now with the new variant, that doesn't mean testing protocols have changed. If you experience any of the COVID-19 symptoms, consider getting tested. You won’t get explicit variant results, but you will know if you have some form of SARS-CoV-2.

Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and looking for relief? Get COVID-19 treatment online via Everlywell's Virtual Care offering.

What is the Delta variant?

Why keeping a COVID test handy at home might actually be a good idea

What are breakthrough cases, and how concerned should you be?


1. How do you know if you have a variant of COVID-19? The Dallas Morning News. URL. Accessed November 2, 2021.

2. What is Genomic Surveillance? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed November 2, 2021.

3. How the pandemic now ends. The Atlantic. URL. Accessed November 2, 2021.

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