Biden administration to spend $1.7 billion to track variants

Josh Wingrove
Bloomberg

President Joe Biden’s administration is allocating $1.7 billion in funding to track the spread of Covid-19 variants, which are proving dangerous as they spread quickly and risk dragging out the pandemic.

Biden will direct $1 billion to genomic sequencing, which helps federal agencies and states track which version of the virus is spreading. They also announced $400 million for epidemiological research and $300 million for health data and training.

More:Michigan gets $6M in federal funds to combat COVID-19 variants

Registered nurse Andraya Zelle treats a patient in the COVID intensive care unit at UW Medical Center-Montlake, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Seattle. King County, where the hospital is located, has been on a downward trend of COVID-19 cases after two-and-a-half straight months of increases. But the current lull could be, and some experts believe will be, upended as more contagious variants of the virus spread throughout United States.

The announcement, with funding from the aid package Biden signed a month ago, comes as mutations of the virus fuel new outbreaks across the U.S. – especially in the upper Midwest.

“These new resources will help ensure states and the CDC have the support they need to fight back against dangerous variants and slow the spread of the virus,” White House Covid-19 Testing Coordinator Carole Johnson said in a statement.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the U.K., is now the most common version of the virus in the U.S., and health officials say it’s more easily transmitted and likely more dangerous for those who are infected with it. Other variants are also spreading, some of which dampen the efficacy of Covid vaccines.

The spread of variants has fueled cases, which were declining from January highs until March. Since then, cases have begun to rise again, even as vaccinations soar. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has warned that hospitalizations also are rising.

Variants of the virus emerge when it is spreading freely. Health officials have warned that U.S. vaccination efforts can’t end the pandemic until it’s ended globally, because new versions of the virus can thrive abroad and hit U.S. soil. Health officials have said vaccines and mitigation measures, like masks and social distancing, are effective in preventing the known variants.