Capitol Correspondence - 01.12.21

As Severe COVID-19 Infections Mount, Experts Also Fear Variant Strains of the Virus

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As reported by the New York Times:

“With no robust system to identify genetic variations of the coronavirus, experts warn that the United States is woefully ill-equipped to track a dangerous new mutant, leaving health officials blind as they try to combat the grave threat.

The variant, which is now surging in Britain and burdening its hospitals with new cases, is rare for now in the United States. But it has the potential to explode in the next few weeks, putting new pressures on American hospitals, some of which are already near the breaking point.

The United States has no large-scale, nationwide system for checking coronavirus genomes for new mutations, including the ones carried by the new variant. About 1.4 million people test positive for the virus each week, but researchers are only doing genome sequencing — a method that can definitively spot the new variant — on fewer than 3,000 of those weekly samples. And that work is done by a patchwork of academic, state and commercial laboratories. [ANCOR note: Politico Pulse has reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have contracted private labs to examine “existing Covid-19 antigen tests in hopes they’ll be able to detect the more transmissible variant of the virus that was first discovered in the U.K”]


Scientists say that a national surveillance program would be able to determine just how widespread the new variant is and help contain emerging hot spots, extending the crucial window of time in which vulnerable people across the country could get vaccinated. That would cost several hundred million dollars or more. While that may seem like a steep price tag, it’s a tiny fraction of the $16 trillion in economic losses that the United States is estimated to have sustained because of Covid-19.”

Additional reading – are hospitalizations increasing in your state? This Axios infographic shares state by state statistics on increasing, stabilized or decreasing hospitalizations, finding an increase in severe COVID-19 cases in 15 states.