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No National Approach

As the US has no national SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing program, it is unable to spot where in the country a recently identified viral strain may be circulating or keep an eye out for new, emerging viral variants, the New York Times writes.

The UK — which identified the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 strain last month — has a national surveillance system and sequences viral genomes from up to 10 percent of positive COVID-19 cases, the Times adds, noting that the US sequences about 1 percent of cases, work that's spread across disparate academic, state, and commercial labs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Gregory Armstrong told CNN earlier this week that the agency is working to boost the number of samples sequenced in the US to about 6,500 samples a week.

But researchers tell the Times that a national effort is needed. "We need some sort of leadership," the University of California, San Francisco's Charles Chiu tells it. "This has to be a system that is implemented on a national level. Without that kind of dedicated support, it's simply not going to get done." 

At Forbes, William Haseltine, a former Harvard University professor and president of ACCESS Health International concurs, writing that "[g]enome sequencing in the US and worldwide must be bolstered, and then new strains must be identified and isolated. Otherwise, we may be looking at a very long year."