The Biden administration said Friday it is investing $1.7 billion in genomic sequencing of the coronavirus to detect fast-moving variants, as only half of the current cases are of the original strain.
The U.S. has lagged behind other nations in its rate of sequencing, making it difficult to detect emerging variants.
Officials said previous investments allowed them to sequence 29,000 samples per day, up from 8,000 samples in February. They want to increase that rate further, as parts of the upper Midwest and East Coast battle fast-moving strains.
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the B.1.1.7, or “U.K.,” variant accounted for over 40% of cases during the week of March 27.
“The prevalence of B.1.1.7 since that time is certainly higher,” she said.
Its prevalence pushed the national rolling average of daily cases to nearly 70,000, with places like Michigan seeing surges around youth sports and other activities. U.S. hospitalizations rose at least 5% compared to last week, while deaths were up slightly, averaging over 700 per day.
Experts say available vaccines appear to work well against this variant, so the race is on to get sufficient levels of immunity in society.
Officials reminded Americans that messenger-RNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are still available, as experts investigate rare blood clots in six recipients of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot version.
Also Friday, the administration said it will use $4 billion from the American Rescue Plan to increase COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and treatment in Indian Country.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said American Indians and Alaska Natives are 3.5 times as likely to get COVID-19 than the non-Hispanic white population. The Indian health system has administered over 1 million shots so far.
“Today, the Biden administration is doubling down on this critical work,” Dr. Murthy said.