Georgia gets $6.7 million to fight COVID-19 variants

021121 Augusta: Project manager John Nechtman (left) and director Jin-Xiong She (right) work with a newly installed Ion Gene Studio S5 Prime Semiconductor Sequencer in the genomics core laboratory at Augusta University Medical Center on Thursday, Feb 11, 2021, in Augusta. The lab currently conducts genomic sequencing to study various illness, but has the capabilities to do the type of sequencing to identify variants of the virus.       Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
021121 Augusta: Project manager John Nechtman (left) and director Jin-Xiong She (right) work with a newly installed Ion Gene Studio S5 Prime Semiconductor Sequencer in the genomics core laboratory at Augusta University Medical Center on Thursday, Feb 11, 2021, in Augusta. The lab currently conducts genomic sequencing to study various illness, but has the capabilities to do the type of sequencing to identify variants of the virus. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Federal officials are providing $1.7 billion to public health officials across the country, including $6.7 million to Georgia, to fight highly infectious COVID-19 variants, they announced Friday.

The funding comes from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package signed into law last month. This portion of the relief package is designed to help states and federal agencies monitor, track, and defeat emerging variants that are currently threatening pockets of the country. Additional funding will come over the next few years, federal officials said.

A variant first identified in Britain is now the most common source of new infections in Georgia, a troubling development that could make the battle to end the pandemic more difficult.

ExploreA more contagious coronavirus variant takes hold in Georgia

“At this critical juncture in the pandemic, 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 announcing the funding.

Georgia is not experiencing a jump in new infections like Michigan, which has the nation’s highest rate of new cases. But experts point out the variant, known as B.1.1.7, took hold of Michigan earlier, and Georgia could be just a few weeks behind.

Federal officials hope to expand efforts to better detect emerging threats like variants before they grow prevalent. In early February, U.S. laboratories were only sequencing about 8,000 COVID-19 coronavirus cases per week, White House officials said. Sequencing rates have increased to about 29,000 samples a week.

Staff writer Helena Oliviero contributed to this report.

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