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Not Ready for Tracking

Despite being a leader in sequencing technology, the US is not well poised to track SARS-CoV-2 viral variants, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

It adds that the approach to viral genomic surveillance in the US is haphazard, with efforts going on at universities, public health labs, and private firms. Earlier this year, the US faced criticism for its low level of viral sequencing, with a January estimate saying the US sequenced about 3,000 COVID-19 samples a week. To boost genomic viral surveillance, the Biden Administration announced in April that it would be providing $1.7 billion in funding, but as Technology Review noted around that time, a cohesive strategy is also needed.

Such a plan, Bloomberg Businessweek now writes, is still lacking. It further notes that while there has been an increase in sequencing, there is still a lag between when a sample is collected and when the data is made public, and that some of that data is not detailed enough.

Rick Bright from the Rockefeller Foundation and former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, tells Bloomberg Businessweek that if a new viral variant comes to the US "we're at great risk of missing it until it's too late again."

 "We have resources now, we have the science and technology. We have amazing willpower in the university system and the private sector," he adds. "All we have to do is take the money and enable these groups and get the information as quickly as possible."