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San Diego Institutes Launch Coronavirus Testing, Research Initiative

NEW YORK — A consortium of San Diego-based research institutes has launched an effort to screen for SARS-CoV-2 in the community and to study the virus' genome to better understand how it is transmitted, the Scripps Research Institute said on Tuesday.

Called the San Diego Epidemiology and Research for COVID Health, or SEARCH, alliance, the initiative includes researchers from Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego, Rady Children's Institute for Genomic Medicine, Scripps, and University of California, San Diego.

In the first phase of the alliance, nasopharyngeal swab samples are being collected from healthcare workers, firefighters, and first responders and screened at Scripps and UC San Diego. Positive results will be confirmed by Rady Children's Institute of Genomic Medicine. SEARCH investigators are also conducting studies analyzing finger prick blood samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in people who have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in order to determine how much the virus has spread undetected.

Thus far, SEARCH has enrolled over 10,000 participants who are either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, finding that an average of two individuals per 1,000 test positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection.

SEARCH is also analyzing the SARS-CoV-2 genome in patient samples to understand how it moves geographically and between people. These data will be deidentified and made public, Scripps said.

"For health officials to gain the upper hand on a virus in our community, they need more complete information about how it's moving through the population," Lauge Farnaes, assistant medical director at Rady Children's Institute for Genomic Medicine, said in a statement. "Our goal is to fill those gaps of knowledge by leveraging San Diego's unique expertise in science and medicine."