U.S. Is Blind to Contagious New Virus Variant, Scientists Warn

It’s not too late to curb the contagious variant’s unfold within the U.S., specialists say — however solely with a nationwide program for genetic sequencing.

Drive through testing at Echo Park Stadium in Denver, Colo., last month. Though about 1.4 million people test positive for the virus each week, only 3,500 of those samples are sequenced to detect the new variant.Drive by means of testing at Echo Park Stadium in Denver, Colo., final month. Though about 1.4 million individuals take a look at constructive for the virus every week, solely 3,500 of these samples are sequenced to detect the brand new variant.Credit…Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Carl Zimmer

  • Jan. 6, 2021, 1:15 p.m. ET

With no strong system to establish genetic variations of the coronavirus, specialists warn that the United States is woefully ill-equipped to trace a harmful new mutant, leaving well being officers blind as they attempt to fight the grave menace.

The variant, which is now surging in Britain and burdening its hospitals with new instances, is uncommon for now within the United States. But it has the potential to blow up within the subsequent few weeks, placing new pressures on American hospitals, a few of that are already near the breaking point.

The United States has no large-scale, nationwide system for checking coronavirus genomes for brand new mutations, together with those carried by the brand new variant. About 1.4 million individuals take a look at constructive for the virus every week, however researchers are solely doing genome sequencing — a way that may definitively spot the brand new variant — on fewer than 3,000 of these weekly samples. And that work is finished by a patchwork of educational, state and business laboratories.

Scientists say {that a} nationwide surveillance program would have the ability to decide simply how widespread the brand new variant is and assist comprise rising scorching spots, extending the essential window of time through which weak individuals throughout the nation might get vaccinated. That would price a number of hundred million {dollars} or extra. While that will appear to be a steep price ticket, it’s a tiny fraction of the $16 trillion in financial losses that the United States is estimated to have sustained due to Covid-19.

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