As concern about more infectious COVID-19 variants continues growing, federal officials are directing more resources toward identifying the mutated strains that have now taken root in most U.S. states.
Officials with the White House’s COVID-19 response team announced that a $1.7 billion investment is being made in genomic sequencing efforts at the local, state and federal levels.
Genomic sequencing, which is inherently costly and resource-intensive, uses technology to analyze and identify the genetic makeup of a virus through samples taken from humans.
“Today, we are announcing a $1.7 billion investment for the CDC and state and local public health departments to monitor, track, and defeat emerging threats — whether it’s COVID-19 variants today or other viruses in the future — through a process known as genomic sequencing,” the White House’s COVID-19 response team tweeted on Friday.
Federal officials say the funding is made possible through the American Rescue Plan. Officials hope the funds will help authorities and their private sector partners detect COVID variants faster in an effort to keep pace with the spread.
“Right now, variants account for nearly half of all U.S. COVID-19 cases and we need more capacity to identify and track them,” officials tweeted.
Roughly 44% of the COVID-positive samples collected through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s genomic surveillance between March 14 and March 27 nationwide were confirmed as the so-called UK. variant, according to new data published this week. The presence of the UK. variant, also called B.1.1.7, as a percentage of overall cases that have been sequenced appears to be doubling every two-week reporting period, indicating widespread transmission.
In Massachusetts, roughly 30% of COVID-positive samples sequenced over a four-week period were confirmed as cases of B.1.1.7 variant. But less than 2% of overall cases in Massachusetts are currently sequencing for variants, making it impractical to identify all the mutant infections.
To date, the CDC has identified 1,100 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Massachusetts; 102 cases of the P.1 variant that originated from Brazil; and 12 cases of the B.1351 variant that originated from South Africa. Unofficially, the New York City variant has also been detected in Massachusetts.
Nationwide, more than 40,000 COVID-positive samples have been sequenced and collected through CDC’s national genomic surveillance program since Dec 20, 2020.