US steps up key genetic analysis for coronavirus variants by 5,500%

Published on Feb 23, 2021 10:41 PM IST

New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus first detected in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil appear to spread more efficiently.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, now director of the US CDC, removes her mask to speak as Joe Biden announces nominees and appointees.(REUTERS)
Dr Rochelle Walensky, now director of the US CDC, removes her mask to speak as Joe Biden announces nominees and appointees.(REUTERS)
Bloomberg |

The US is now analyzing about 14,000 coronavirus cases each week with genetic sequencing to detect faster-spreading variants, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said.

That’s up from 250 sequences a week when Walensky took office last month, she told a House Appropriations subcommittee panel Tuesday morning.

New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus first detected in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil appear to spread more efficiently. Each of those variants has been found in the US, adding urgency to the country’s effort to understand how they’re spreading.

About 3% of all cases are being sequenced to find variants, Walensky said. “That obviously needs to scale up,” she said.

The CDC is working with seven academic institutions to sequence about 4,000 samples a week, and commercial labs are sequencing about 6,000 cases a week, Walensky said. They are expected to further expand capacity.

Congress is proposing $1.75 billion in additional funding to expand sequencing as part of President Joe Biden’s economic stimulus plan.

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