The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tapped Labcorp to help conduct a large-scale genomic study tracking new mutations in the COVID-19 virus—after a fast-spreading variant, first identified in the U.K., has recently surfaced on U.S. shores.
The public health agency plans to collect random samples from across the country, to provide a baseline that will enable national and state-level surveillance programs to hone in on emerging cases.
With the addition of Labcorp’s facilities, the CDC said it aims to more than double the number of genomic samples sequenced per week.
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“Better decision making starts with better data, and we are eager to help the CDC in its effort to improve the nation’s understanding of this virus and how to effectively fight it,” Labcorp Chief Scientific Officer Marcia Eisenberg said. “This sequencing survey is a critical project to ensure our knowledge of COVID-19 improves even as the virus may mutate and change.”
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The new strain of the virus, known as B117, was first spotted last September, and positive cases have quickly multiplied in the months since.
While it has not yet proven to be more deadly to the individual patient, its quick transmission speeds—making it about 50% more contagious—could allow it to infect more people and place a larger burden on the public health system.
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On December 25, the CDC issued an order requiring all inbound air passengers from the U.K. to be screened for COVID-19 before they board, including U.S. citizens. And this week, the agency said it expects the variant is already spreading among communities in several states, according to a report from the Washington Post.
The University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, known as CIDRAP, counts at least 56 cases of B117 in eight states, with the most in California and Florida.