What are the issues with tracking new COVID-19 strain in Georgia?

Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 11:22 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Right now, there are six confirmed cases of the B-117 strain of COVID-19 in Georgia.

The new strain is thought to be more contagious than the original strain from China. But there is still so much experts don’t know yet about this mutation.

Just Wednesday, health officials in Alaska found a coronavirus variant they say may be a more dangerous and more transmittable variant of the virus than the United Kingdom one.

U.S. health experts are on high alert for other strains from Brazil and South Africa.

While hospitalization and cases have slightly improved, officials say that could change if other variants are found.

So, let’s take a look at how these mutations are being tracked and how the process might move forward after the vaccine is widely distributed.

“The gold standard method is sequencing. So, we sequence the entire genome of the coronavirus, and then identify that particular variant,” said Dr. Ravindra Kolhe, GEM Lab Director of the Medical College of Georgia.

Going and getting a standard COVID test alone won’t determine whether you have a mutated version of the virus.

Experts in a lab have to perform additional tests, in this case: sequence your sample.

“Some countries like Australia are doing it at a scale of 5 percent. So, 5 percent of all the positive cases in the country are being sequenced and try to gauge what different variants are present in Australia,” Kolhe explained.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts aren’t testing for variants anywhere close to that scale. Kolhe says a feasible goal would be to test about 1 to 2 percent of positive cases for mutations.

“I think post-vaccination, it will be interesting and crucial to sequence these positive cases to identify what type of infection these post-vaccine individuals are getting,” Kolhe said.

Crucial, because it could help track down any mutations the vaccine might not be strong against. And critical to help stop further spread and a longer pandemic.

The I-Team requested information from Georgia’s Department of Public Health about which cities the cases of the B-117 came from. They have denied our requests at this time, and our I-Team is still actively working to get that information and provide some transparency.

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