NC analyzing few samples for Delta variant of COVID-19, leaving full extent of spread unknown

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – While North Carolina reports more than 1,400 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 so far, at this point there’s no direct way of knowing exactly how many are a result of the Delta variant.

Tracking variants happens in specialized labs Duke University’s genomic sequencing lab. Professor Greg Wray has helped to run samples for the university and recently the state.

“As we gather this information about the strains, one of the things I think they’ll be quite interested in monitoring is how often someone who’s been fully vaccinated still ends up getting positive,” said Wray.

Scientists find out if a virus is mutating through a process called sequencing. It looks at the DNA of a virus and it’s a process the U.S. is struggling to keep up with.

“It’s a little bit more involved. It takes a little bit longer and it’s a little bit more expensive,” said Wray.

Just 1.2 percent of samples have been analyzed for variants in North Carolina. Nationwide the percentage is 1.9 percent. The figures are low when compared to the U.K., processing at 11 percent.

However, not all samples need to be screened.

“We can take a few individuals from a variety of different communities and locations of the state and have a pretty good idea of how well the strains are comparing against each other,” said Wray.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you won’t be told what strain you have. At this point, it wouldn’t make a difference if you knew.

“We might in the future recognize that certain populations need to go back and get boosters but it’s not really affecting how the hospital will treat a patient who comes out,” said Wray.

The CDC stopped tracking all breakthrough cases several months ago. They now only track those that end up in hospitalizations. To link your infection to a variant, you’d have to hope your sample was part of the just 1.2 percent the state is checking for variants. There isn’t any variant notification process at this point.

“What we really want to be able to figure out is whether, in particular, are more of the breakthroughs happening with the Delta strain or are the breakthroughs really some of the previous strains,” Wray said.

For now, all three vaccines are still showing to be effective. Unvaccinated people, however, are giving this virus room to evolve.

“Your best chance of not getting Delta is to get vaccinated,” said Wray.

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