The U.S. is doing a lousy job tracking coronavirus variants

So how is the U.S. performing in the area of genomic surveillance? Not very well, and well behind other developed countries, coming in 34th in the number of SARS-CoV-2 genomes sequenced per number of cases. Even within the U.S., there is large variation among states for genomes sequenced per number of cases, ranging from Tennessee at 0.09 percent to Wyoming at 5.82 percent.

But this is about to change. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with other agencies of the federal government, is partnering with private labs, state and local public health labs, academia and others to increase genomic surveillance capacity in the U.S.

Reaching the new national goal of 5 percent set by the White House is not as simple as footing a hefty bill for a laboratory to perform the tests, though. Laboratories must collect the samples, often from different sources: public health labs, hospitals, clinics, private testing labs. Once the sequencing test is performed, bioinformaticians use advanced programs to identify important mutations. Next, public health professionals merge the genomic data with the epidemiological data to determine how the virus is spreading. All of this requires investment in training people to perform these tasks as a team.