Mississippi health leaders plan to do more COVID-19 variant surveillance

Mississippi health leaders plan to do more COVID-19 variant surveillance
(Source: Mecklenburg County Public Health)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In Shelby County, health leaders are testing about 100 samples per week for mutant COVID-19 strains.

So far the UK, South African and Brazillian strains are circulating in the community.

Across the border in Mississippi, they’re doing significantly fewer tests and health leaders there admit that’s a problem.

“We’re testing about 75 samples a week, but we’re gonna be significantly increasing that in the coming weeks to increase our surveillance,” said Mississippi’s State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers Tuesday.

Byers said, so far they have identified nine cases and all of them are the U.K. strain.

Byers said, “We have not identified any other variants of concern in the state.”

However, the entire state of Mississippi is doing fewer tests than one county in Tennessee, making it difficult to get a clear picture of what is circulating in the state.

We asked Mississippi Heath leaders what was holding up efforts to increase testing an hour which counties were the 9 positive variant samples were taken from, but we haven’t heard back.

The CDC has elevated 5 COVID-19 mutant strains to “Variants of Concern”, the second-highest level on a three-tier system.

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“Variants of Concern”, includes evidence of increased resistance to therapies and evidence of reduced protection from vaccines.

“So it’s paramount that we do variant testing,” said Infectious disease expert Dr. Manoj Jain who also is a member of the Shelby County Covid-19 Taskforce.

Jain says the health department is testing about 100 samples per week but has the capacity to do much more.

“So I would encourage anyone who is positive to then ask the provider, do I have the mutant or not,” said Jain.

Jain says the reason you would want to know your COVID-19 strain is so you can warn family and friends to take extra-precautions since the variants are not only more transmissible but with the UK strain studies have shown it to be deadlier.

Jain says once it’s sent to the lab variant sequencing takes about 1 to 3 days to get the results.

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