$6.6M coming to NC to track COVID-19 variants

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Arthur Moseley PhD, Director of Proteomics, discusses data with Kendra Adams, PhD, postdoctoral associate, while Tricia Ho, lab research analyst, loads samples. Courtesy: Duke

RALEIGH, N.C.(WNCN) – The White House announced Friday it would invest $1.7 billion to help better track COVID-19 variants.

Of that, $6.6 million was allocated to North Carolina.

Andy Slavitt, White House senior advisor for COVID-19 Response, said the investment was “critical in our fight against the new and potentially dangerous variants of COVID-19.”

North Carolina is among the states receiving the most funds:

  • California: $17,091,936
  • Texas: $15,555,044
  • Florida: $12,699,436
  • Ohio: $7,321,756
  • Pennsylvania: $7,062,902
  • New York: $7,007,315
  • Georgia: $6,732,998
  • North Carolina: $6,661,942

Slavitt cited half of the current COVID-19 cases in the country are variants.

The money will be used by the CDC, states and local public health departments to do more genomic sequencing and track the spread of variants.

“They need more capacity to detect these variants, early on before dangerous outbreaks,” said Slavitt.

Challenges of finding variants

Scientists find out if a virus is mutating through a process called sequencing. It looks at the DNA of a virus and checks for changes.

While a COVID-19 test may be able to tell you whether you have the virus, special labs with a separate set of skills are required to look for mutations.

Overall, North Carolina is sequencing 0.62 percent of positive samples. The low percentage makes it difficult to know just how much of the variants are circulating in the community.

Wyoming has sequenced the most with 7.7-percent of positive samples analyzed.

Greg Wray is a biology professor at Duke. He works with the

Variant tracking at Duke

Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology

The CDC announced they would fund the equipment, supplies, training, staffing, electronic infrastructure needed to increase genomic sequencing.

The White House allocated $400 million to the CDC to establish six Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology.

The centers are meant to pull together state health departments and academic institutions to increase research of gene sequencing and to possibly come up with better surveillance methods.

“In this work, we will build our public health capacity to respond not just to COVID-19, but to future concerning emerging threats to public health,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

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