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Feds investing $1.7B in genomic sequencing to track coronavirus variants

Boston Herald logo Boston Herald 4/16/2021 Alexi Cohan
a person wearing a suit and tie: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who has been selected to serve as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, to announce President-elect Joe Biden's his health care team. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) © Provided by Boston Herald Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who has been selected to serve as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, to announce President-elect Joe Biden's his health care team. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

An investment of $1.7 billion from the American Rescue Plan will be used to track down coronavirus variants as they emerge and spread, White House officials announced Friday.

“This funding will enable CDC and states to do more genomic sequencing as we activate the nation’s great research capabilities to detect variants earlier and increase our visibility into emerging threats,” said Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Genomic sequencing is a process that helps determine the origin of a coronavirus infection and whether it is a variant.

Slavitt said right now, the variant first identified in the United Kingdom accounts for nearly half of all cases in the United States.

“This investment will give public health officials the chance to react more quickly to prevent and stop the spread,” Slavitt said.

The new investment builds off of $200 million that was already committed to genomic sequencing earlier this year.

Slavitt said, “Additional sequencing efforts will be a vital tool in our battle against COVID-19.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said the CDC will use the $1.7 billion to fund equipment, supplies, training, staffing and partnerships.

About $300 million will go toward establishing six centers of excellence in genomic epidemiology.

“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,” Walensky said.

The race between variants and vaccines is continuing in the United States with about one third of the population having received at least one dose and about one fifth fully vaccinated, according to Walensky.

Coronavirus cases have been increasing in the U.S. with a seven-day average of 69,500 cases, according to Walensky. That number was 53,000 just four weeks ago.

Average daily deaths have increased for the third day in a row to more than 700 per day.

“The increasing trends in cases, hospitalizations and deaths are very concerning, and they threaten the progress we’ve already made,” Walensky said.

She also announced that an independent CDC advisory committee will reconvene on April 23 to discuss and make recommendations on next steps for administration of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

The single-shot vaccine was put on hold this week due to a potential link to six rare blood clotting cases found in recently vaccinated women.

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