COVID-19 Variants

Variants of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) are expected. Viruses change through mutation and sometimes these mutations result in a new variant of the virus. Some variants emerge and disappear while others persist. CDC and other public health organizations monitor SARS-CoV-2 variants in the United States and globally.

Some variants may spread more easily than others, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. Even if a variant causes less severe illness, an increase in the overall number of cases could cause an increase in hospitalizations, which could put more strain on healthcare resources and potentially lead to more deaths.

To find the latest updates about variants being monitored, variants of interest, variants of concern, and variants of high consequence, visit the CDC website.

While anyone can become infected with COVID-19, including variants, people who are not up to date on the COVID-19 vaccine are more at risk of serious illness and death if they become infected.

Visit the CDC website to find the latest COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.

Certain COVID-19 variants can spread more easily compared to the original strain of COVID-19. Mutations in viruses occur when not enough people are vaccinated, and spread is allowed to continue.

While most Maricopa County residents have gotten at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s a good start, but we need to continually take part in preventing the spread of COVID-19 to decrease the likelihood of future variants taking hold. It is important to stay up to date on the COVID-19 vaccines to aid in this effort.

Learn more on the tools to fight COVID-19 variants on the CDC website

The most important thing you can do is to make sure to stay up to date on the COVID-19 vaccine to maximize your immune protection. The COVID-19 vaccine is widely available in Maricopa County. Use the COVID-19 vaccine locations map to find a vaccine near you at your local pharmacy, grocery store, clinic, or community event.

Other ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19 are:

  • Stay home when sick
  • Follow CDC recommendations based on our COVID Community Level
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect high tough surfaces

Find out more about the ways to protect yourself and others on the CDC website.

The COVID-19 tests that are widely available, including antigen and PCR tests, tell you if you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but they cannot tell you which variant of the virus you are infected with. There is no commercial test available for individuals to determine which variant they have. Knowing the variant would not change how you would treat symptoms at home or guidance you would follow for home isolation.

To figure out what variant someone with COVID-19 has, the nose/throat swab or spit sample has to be sent to a special laboratory where genetic sequencing is performed. The results from the genetic sequencing test that determines the strain of COVID-19 are not allowed to be shared with a patient or family because it is not approved by the FDA. Public Health is allowed to use these results to determine what strains of the virus are circulating in our community, and if an outbreak is caused by a variant, but we cannot share the individual results of a person.

Maricopa County is working very closely with our partners to track COVID-19 genetic sequencing data to determine how variants are affecting our community. We work to get nose/throat swabs and spit samples that are positive for COVID-19 sent to specialized laboratories where they can be genetically sequenced to determine what strains of virus are in our communities. We work closely with groups and facilities experiencing outbreaks to give additional infection control recommendations and support to stop the outbreak as quickly as possible.


  • Review CDC isolation guidance to determine how long you need to isolate at home for and CDC exposure guidance for any persons you may have had close contact with recently.
  • For any questions regarding your illness or test result, please contact your healthcare/primary care provider.
  • If you are a K-12 student or staff member, please inform your school of your test result for further guidance.

Antibody, or serology, tests are used to detect a past infection with COVID-19 and require a blood sample to detect the presence of antibodies. Antibody tests are not designed to detect an active infection of the virus and should not be used for diagnostic purposes.

Molecular tests, such as PCR and antigen tests, can be used to diagnose infection at the time of testing. Find a diagnostic testing location near you.

COVID-19 diagnostic testing is now widely available. You can get tested whether you are currently experiencing symptoms or are concerned you were exposed to someone with the virus, even if you have no symptoms of illness. To locate a community testing event near you or find links to testing providers, visit our testing page.

To receive up to four free at-home tests from the federal government, you can submit a request at

New testing methods have been developed since the start of the pandemic for detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Some involve inserting a swab into the nose, others require a spit sample. While most labs can turn results back in two to three days, new rapid testing kits can provide results in as little as 15 minutes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two types of tests for diagnosing an active COVID-19 infection:

  • PCR test: This COVID-19 test detects genetic material (RNA) of the virus using a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR tests are considered highly accurate, but running the tests and analyzing the results can take time. Results may be available in as little as 24 hours or a few days depending on the lab's proximity to the testing site and other factors.

    PCR tests require that a health care worker collects fluid from the nose or throat. Many coronavirus testing sites use shorter, less invasive swabs to swab inside the nostrils and don’t go as far into the nose as the long, uncomfortable nasopharyngeal swab. Saliva-based PCR testing is now also available, where you spit into a small collection tube.

  • Antigen test (also known as rapid tests): This COVID-19 test detects certain proteins in the virus. Using a nose or throat swab to get a fluid sample, rapid antigen tests can produce results in minutes. A positive antigen test result is considered very accurate, but antigen tests have a higher chance of a false negative than PCR tests — meaning it's possible to be infected with the virus but still get a negative result. Depending on the situation, your health care provider may recommend a PCR test to confirm a negative antigen test result.

NOTE: While they sound similar, antigen tests are not the same as antibody tests. Antibody, or serology, tests are used to detect a past infection with COVID-19 and require a blood sample to detect the presence of antibodies. Antibody tests are not designed to detect an active infection of the virus and should not be used for diagnostic purposes.

Free community COVID-19 diagnostic testing is widely available and test types vary by testing site. There also may be minimum ages for certain types of tests. For more information and locations near you visit our testing page or call 2-1-1.

No. While they sound similar, antigen tests are not the same as antibody tests. Antibody, or serology (blood) tests are used to detect a past infection with COVID-19 and require a blood sample to detect the presence of antibodies. Antibody tests are not designed to detect an active infection of the virus and should not be used for diagnostic purposes.

COVID-19 PCR tests are very “specific,” which is a scientific term that means the likelihood of receiving false positive COVID-19 PCR result is very low. Most COVID-19 PCR tests have a false positive rate of <1%, which is extremely accurate for a laboratory test.

If you test positive for COVID-19 by a PCR test, you should assume you have COVID – even if you don’t have any symptoms! Because the test has such a low rate of false positive results, it is very unlikely that you do not have COVID.

Infected Individuals and Isolation

If you have tested positive, please visit the COVID Positive section to find out what you should do next.

Not sure how long you should isolate once you’ve tested positive? Use the CDC Isolation Calculator to find out.

Close Contacts and Quarantine

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) follow CDC guidelines and define a close contact of a COVID-19 case as being:

  • You were within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19, regardless of whether masks were worn, for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before symptoms began (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated, OR;
  • You had physical contact with a person with COVID-19 while they were infectious.
    • Exception: In the K-12 school setting, a student who was within 3-6 feet of an infected student is not considered a close contact if both students were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting masks at all times.
    • This exception does not apply to teachers, staff or other adults in the classroom setting.

      *Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes).

Masks and Other Prevention Tools

Visit the CDC website for the latest updates on mask recommendations. You should follow CDC’s recommendations based on our current COVID-19 Community Level.

Layered prevention strategies — like staying up to date on vaccines and wearing masks — can help prevent severe illness and reduce the potential for strain on the healthcare system. Wear a mask with the best fit, protection, and comfort for you.

People who are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations are more protected than those who are not; however, people who are vaccinated can still become infected and possibly infect others.

See our current COVID Community Level and recommended mitigation measures on our dashboard.

Yes, masks help contain respiratory droplets that carry the virus, which makes us less likely to infect others. They can also protect the wearer from droplets spread by others if the masks are effective and fit well.

COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. These droplets can fly through the air and land in another’s person’s mouth or nose up to 6 feet away. When used with other prevention actions, masks can provide an extra layer to help prevent the respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people.

See the CDC comparison of mask types and the protection levels they offer.


Please see the general schools questions or questions about the school data dashboard.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Questions about vaccine locations, vaccine safety, and more? See the general vaccine FAQ.


  • Coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 is a new respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
  • Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. There are several known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold.
  • You can learn more about COVID-19 at the CDC website.

COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth. In some circumstances, they may contaminate surfaces they touch. People who are closer than 6 feet from the infected person are most likely to get infected.

COVID-19 is spread in three main ways:

  • Breathing in air when close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus.
  • Having these small droplets and particles that contain virus land on the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
  • Touching eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.

Visit the CDC’s How COVID-19 Spreads page to learn how COVID-19 spreads and how to protect yourself.

Symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

This list does not include all possible symptoms or complications. To learn more about COVID-19 symptoms and complications visit the CDC.

Severe illness means that the person with COVID-19 may require hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe. Adults over age 65 and people of any age with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease are at higher risk of serious illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19.

To learn more about possible medical conditions that can increase your risk for severe illness, visit the CDC website.

If you test positive for COVID-19 and have one or more health conditions that increase your risk of becoming very sick, treatment may be available. Contact a health professional right away after a positive test to determine if you may be eligible, even if your symptoms are mild right now. Don’t delay: Treatment must be started within the first few days to be effective. More information can be found here.

Healthcare systems could be overwhelmed treating both patients with flu and patients with COVID-19. This means getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever.

While getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, there are many important benefits, such as:

  • Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death.
  • Getting a flu vaccine can also save healthcare resources for the care of patients with COVID-19.

Check with your healthcare provider or local pharmacy about flu shots in your area. Our three childhood immunization clinics around Maricopa County also have the flu shot free for anyone 6 months through 18 years of age! Please call ahead to ensure the flu vaccine is available. It takes about two weeks to build immunity to the influenza virus so be sure to plan ahead to make sure you and your family are protected.

The risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low. A small number of pets have been reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after they have had contact with people with COVID-19.

Pets can get serious illness from infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, but this is extremely rare. Pets also have other types of coronaviruses that can make them sick, like canine (dog) and feline (cat) coronaviruses. Some coronaviruses infect only animals and do not infect humans. It’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits around pets and other animals.

To learn more about COVID-19 and pets, visit:

Children can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and can get sick with COVID-19. While most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or they may have no symptoms at all (“asymptomatic”), children can still become very ill and even die from COVID-19. Babies younger than 1 and children with certain underlying medical conditions are more likely to become very ill from COVID-19. Some children have developed a rare but serious disease that is linked to COVID-19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C).

Learn more about things families should consider related to COVID-19 on the CDC website.

More information: 

Still Have Questions?

If you have questions, please submit your question here or call us at 602-506-6767.