Nebraska officials are watching for variants of the coronavirus by sequencing the entire genome of samples of the virus. Peter Iwen, the director of Nebraska’s Public Health Laboratory, said the detailed tests performed each week help scientists identify mutations of the virus and track how they affect the spread of COVID-19 in the state. So far, the lab hasn’t identified either of the main variants of the virus that were first identified in the United Kingdom and in South Africa in the state. But the researchers have found two other mutations that may affect the virus’ ability to cause infections and severe symptoms, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
The lab uses an automated machine that can map the DNA of 32 samples of the virus at once. Iwen said the lab’s goal is to complete three runs a week of the tests every week. He said that’s more than most labs have the capacity to do. Each batch of 32 samples costs $3.500. Federal officials are working to expand such DNA testing of the virus across the country to better track variants of the coronavirus. The Nebraska lab recently received federal funding to help expand its work. The state said it administered about 53,000 doses of the vaccines last week. That was down slightly from the 55,000 completed the week before as winter weather across the country delayed some shipments of the vaccine last week.