The Coronavirus Variant Sequencing (CORVASEQ) Surveillance Program of the North Carolina Collaboratory and the NC Department of Health recently reported the discovery of Coronavirus Variant 19 (COVID-19), a variant strongly related to the Omicron virus.

Omicron Mutation Noticed In North Carolina By A Surveillance Program

Amir Barzin, DO, Dirk Dittmer, Ph.D., and Audrey Pettifor, Ph.D. have been running CORVASEQ at Gillings School of Global Public Health since it was launched in the summer of 2021. 

Omicron Mutation Noticed In North Carolina By A Surveillance Program

UNC Charlotte, which identified the first known issue of the Omicron virus in North Carolina, is one of the universities that use CORVASEQ to funnel samples of SARS-CoV-2, the virus found in COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 variants and their sequences are added to a global database by the NC DHHS. The program has developed methods to sequence SARS-CoV-2 samples so that the results can be shared with leaders and researchers in real-time.

Through collaboration with multiple institutions, researchers can quickly sequence samples from all 100 counties in North Carolina, allowing them to determine if particular segments of society are more susceptible to Delta, Omicron, or possibly a new virus. All parts of the state will benefit from this network composition.

Dirk Dittmer, Ph.D., director of the UNC Viral Genomics Core, and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at UNC, said that sequencing SARS-CoV-2 samples would stay an important part of our fight against COVID-19.

To ensure that cures, vaccinations, and tests stay effective, it is crucial to map the genome of each virus. Considering that Omicron has so many mutations, it may be necessary to adjust management protocols.

Melanie Miller, Ph.D., director of the Clinical Molecular Microbiology Laboratory at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, says UNC is still on track.

The PCR test can detect the Omicron variant in Miller’s lab, which tests for COVID-19 at UNC Medical Center. Through our collaboration with diagnostic companies, we perform computer analyses to confirm the presence of variants, including tests to detect Omicron. It is no problem for us to deal with Omicron.”

Ms. Miller reports that her laboratory runs about 500 COVID-19 tests a day. Around mid-2020, 1,500 tests were processed daily during the height of the pandemic. Before the peak, the Delta variant was tested around 300 times a day earlier this year.

As of now, Miller’s lab sequences positive COVID-19 samples in addition to processing tests. Miller’s lab sequences DNA from patients at UNC Medical Center and UNC Health affiliate hospitals, while Dittmer’s lab mainly sequences samples from the UNC-Chapel Hill population.

More than 2,700 SARS-CoV-2 samples have been sequenced since her lab began working with the UNC Genomics Core at the beginning of 2021. The CORVASEQ network has sequenced more than 10,000 samples. By mid-July, almost all of those samples had been identified as the Delta variant.

Miller says it took less than two weeks for the Delta variant to surpass Alpha, along with other variants. Our goal will be to get a clear picture of Omicron as soon as possible, but we don’t know if that will be the case yet.”

That is what CORVASEQ is all about. Researchers and state leaders will have timely and accurate information to decide if the quantity and quality of sequenced illustrations within the state grow. In addition to COVID-19, this schedule also lays to other programs, and CORVASEQ will likely be used in this outbreak as well as forthcoming emergencies.

Whenever the state requires it in the future, and the funding is available, CorVASEQ can be ready in a matter of weeks,” he said. “All the preparations we’ve done and will continue to do will prepare us for any other pandemic or epidemic.” Meanwhile, Miller suggests tackling the virus with a single strain at a time.