$15 million NC project launching soon to track COVID-19 variants

Coronavirus

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — COVID-19 cases have more than tripled since the beginning of the month in North Carolina.

Since the beginning of July, 38 percent of coronavirus samples in North Carolina that were tested for the Delta variant came back positive for it.

A $15 million program is launching in North Carolina to better track variants, like the Delta.

“There’s a lot of legwork that had to be done,” said Dr. Dirk Dittmer, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and one of the project leads.

They’re teaming up with other medical universities in the state and partnering with health systems to share data.

“That’s really the importance of this program. It’s not piecemeal anymore, it’s everyone working together,” said Dittmer.

Each site will do what’s called sequencing, which is testing COVID-19 samples for variants.

Most of the places have already been doing it, but on their own dime and with limited resources. This program will give each place what they need to do more.

“And we can bring data sequencing as close to the patient as possible. We don’t want to just take North Carolina samples and send them to the CDC where they’re one of many. We want to do it in our state,” said Dittmer.

All results will be uploaded to an international website and to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

The goal is to have a seven-day turnaround time on results and for the data to be on the state’s online dashboard for people to see.

“We need the picture of the entire state, not just Chapel Hill and Durham,” Dittmer said.

They came up with the idea for the project at the end of last year.

Because of how Congress wrote legislation for COVID-19 funding, they had to first go through the General Assembly to get money allocated from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

The governor signed the bill in March.

The funding is expected to kick in this month as the final contracts are signed.

So far this month, 181 of the 469 samples/sequences tested in the state had the Delta variant.

“It’s important to realize up until now, the last four months or so, we had very few cases, so that’s why we have that many sequences,” said Dr. Dittmer. “Now, we’re ready for the wave to come and we’ll be ready for that.”

This data will help track the Delta and other future variants to see their patterns and what vaccines may be needed.

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