The Biden administration announced Friday that it would invest $1.7 billion in a new effort to monitor and fight the newest and possibly dangerous strains of the coronavirus circulating in the U.S.
The new investment — which comes from the coronavirus relief bill passed in March — includes $1 billion to expand genomic sequencing of COVID-19 strains throughout the country, which helps identify the mutations and see where they’re spreading.The rest of the funding will go into research and better infrastructure to monitor virus variants in the future.
Variants now account for nearly half of all COVID-19 cases in the country, and most of those cases are the B.1.1.7 strain, which was first detected in the United Kingdom. The B.1.1.7 mutation is more infectious and likely slightly more deadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This investment will give public health officials the chance to react more quickly to prevent and stop the spread,” said Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser on COVID-19.
The Biden administration previously invested $200 million in the effort to sequence COVID-19 mutations, and they’re now classifying about 29,000 samples per week, according to a White House fact sheet.
The new funding will grow that number even more and specifically allocates money for states to track variants on their own.
On Friday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned Americans about the more infectious variants as a factor in the rising number of cases and hospitalizations in the U.S.
“[This] makes the race to stop the transmission even more challenging and threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system again in parts of this country,” Dr. Walensky said.
Members of the COVID-19 Response Team once again urged people to “do their part” by masking, social distancing and getting vaccinated when possible.
On Monday, April 19, all U.S. adults will be eligible for the vaccine. So far, nearly 40% of the population has gotten at least one dose, according to the CDC tracker, including 80% of Americans over the age of 65.
Still, officials reiterated that the COVID-19 variants were a challenge to the vaccination campaign, especially if they continue to spread outside the U.S.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said there are ongoing studies looking at whether a future booster shot of the vaccine would be modeled on the original type of coronavirus found in the U.S. or on the new variants.
The need for a booster shot is still uncertain, though administration officials said they keep the possibility in mind when planning for things like future vaccine supply.