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Oklahoma to ramp up tracking of COVID-19 variants through new tech capabilities

Jared Taylor
Jared Taylor

New technology capabilities soon will give Oklahoma officials more insight into the presence of COVID-19 variants in the state, State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor said Thursday.

The Oklahoma Pandemic Center for Innovation and Excellence in Stillwater has received federal approval for processes that will allow the state to sequence genomes for the virus that causes COVID-19, officials announced.

That could make a huge difference in the fight against the coronavirus in Oklahoma, Taylor said.

“With these expanded capabilities, we're going to be able to identify and track new strains much more rapidly and at a much larger rate,” he said.

Genome sequencing allows scientists to identify and track COVID-19 variants. Currently, most of the sequencing for Oklahoma is done by shipping off samples to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

Taylor said the state will aim to sequence about 10% of positive samples for COVID-19 statewide. Currently, the state is sequencing less than 0.01% of positive samples.

Earlier this year, two prominent variants were detected in Oklahoma through the CDC’s surveillance program.

Taylor said he expects the technology will mean identifying new variants, but that’s not cause for concern.

“It's an opportunity for us to learn from that and be able to do more with that information,” he said.

The information will help public health officials stay nimble and adjust their strategies as they respond to the pandemic, which could include vaccine recommendations or quarantine and isolation requirements, Taylor said.

It also will complement sequencing research already being done at the University of Oklahoma, officials said.

“We are excited to get our sequencing capability fully operational, as COVID-19 variants are spreading rapidly throughout our global communities,” Dr. Michael Kayser, director of the OPCIE and Public Health Lab, said in a written statement. “This is exactly the type of critical research and development endeavor this center was established to do to improve our overall health response and outcomes.”

Dana Branham

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