NC medical schools, health systems forming network to analyze Delta variant

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina is taking a hit with another 1,000 cases of COVID-19 reported for the second day in a row.

The jump in people being hospitalized is also the highest it has been in months.

Medical experts point to the Delta variant as a driving factor. The Delta variant now makes up about 60 percent of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to the CDC.

Experts expect it to only go higher.

Kaylee Aisenberg, 12, received her second dose of the vaccine on Friday.

“I just wanted to get it to be safer around people,” said Aisenberg.

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She is one of the more than four million North Carolinians to now have all her COVID-19 doses.

“It just feels more freeing I guess, like you don’t have to worry about it all too much,” said Aisenberg.

She got her shots as the Delta variant is exploding.

The latest data shows it represents about 13 percent of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, but that data is about a month old.

“It is inevitable this is going to be the dominant virus here very, very shortly,” said Dr. David Wohl, UNC professor of medicine.

Only the CDC provides information on variants right now for North Carolina.

Experts said that is because the analysis is a timely and expensive process. It needs to be done in highly specialized research labs.

“In a perfect world, we’d love to know that someone is positive and what’s the subtype or variant of it in real-time,” said Thomas Denny, COO of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. “What a lot of laboratories are doing is holding samples until they have a batch, whether it’s a week or two weeks and then doing the sequence analysis.”

Denny said UNC is leading a network right now of the major medical schools in the state, including Duke, and several health systems.

They received state funding to start analyzing patients’ results to see how many are testing positive for the variant.

It will provide more up-to-date numbers and a better idea of how effective the vaccines are against the variant.

“The longer we have low vaccination rates, the greater threat that is to us,” said Denny.

The network is in the works right now and they expect to have the state funding in place sometime this month.

NCDHHS is tracking variants in the state through three different mechanisms. The largest amount of sequencing in the state is being done by laboratories contracted with CDC to provide sequencing across the country. Data from these labs is reported on the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker and a subset of these labs report their results to NCDHHS’s Division of Public Health (NC DPH). Sequencing is also being done by multiple clinical and research labs at academic hospitals across the state. NC DPH is working with many of these laboratories and the NC Policy Collaboratory to support sequencing at these academic centers and facilitate reporting of surveillance data to NC DPH moving forward. Finally, the NC State Laboratory of Public Health has expanded their sequencing capacity and accept specimens for sequencing from clusters, outbreaks, and from patients meeting a variety of clinical criteria such as vaccine breakthrough cases, re-infections, and travelers.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

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