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Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions hearing on the federal response to the coronavirus on Capitol Hill on March 18 in Washington, DC.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions hearing on the federal response to the coronavirus on Capitol Hill on March 18 in Washington, DC. Susan Walsh / Pool / Getty Images
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The United States is now sequencing 10,000 to 14,000 samples of the coronavirus each week in its search for cases of new variants across the country, the director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said Thursday.

But even more sequencing is needed to stay on top of the spread of new variants, Walensky said at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions.

“We are now doing between 10,000 and 14,000 sequences per week,” Walensky said. “At the moment, we would really like to be up to 25,000.”

The United States does much less genomic sequencing than other countries, such as the United Kingdom, and the CDC has said that means there is not a clear picture of the spread of variants. The CDC has predicted that the most contagious B.1.1.7 variant will be the dominant version of the virus in the United States by the end of March.

What the CDC needs: Walensky said the agency needed the money allocated in the US bailout to build sequencing capacity. “The additional $ 1.75 billion is actually essential to help fund jurisdictions for the next genome sequencing capacity,” she said. “Not all jurisdictions have this capacity and we really need to be able to expand it across the country.”

Equipment is also needed to sequence samples, and trained personnel are essential, Walensky said. “We have to develop a workforce, so that people understand how to do genomic epidemiology,” she said. “It’s not a standard application. This is not what people generally know and so we need to develop this workforce. “

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