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Photo: Lightspring (Shutterstock) Last week it was flurona . This week it’s something called “deltacron.” We’re primed to go “oh shit” when we hear about a new variant, because we’ve been burned by quite a few of them by now. But the scary names outnumber the things we actually need to be scared of. Not long ago, we were warned about “ delta plus .” That fizzled out. On the other hand, Delta was real, and its spike was particularly bad and has not yet gone away. Omicron is real, and is definitely still a problem. So how do we know which variants to worry about? I’ll give you a big clue: The time to panic is not when somebody gives a virus a catchy new name. The time you may consider panicking is when a variant makes it onto the World Health Organization’s “Variants of Concern” list . Currently, that list has five entries: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron. (There is also a second list, the Variants of Interest, which currently just contains Lambda and Mu. A variant might start as a VOI and get upgraded to a VOC.) Why variants make headlines even when they’re not a big deal There are two reasons not to panic too early. One is that variants have to compete against each other in the real world. This is natural selection in action: If a variant isn’t good at reproducing itself, it’s just not going to get very far. Remember, what […]