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Upstate lab tapped to assist state in identifying COVID-19 variants

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the selection of five laboratories—including one at Upstate Medical University—to bolster state efforts in identifying COVID-19 variants.

The New York State Department of Health is partnering with these laboratories to expand the genetic sequencing of specimens positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The selected laboratories have sequencing expertise and experience, as well as capacity and access to SARS-CoV-2 positive specimens from large multi-county areas in New York State, outside of New York City.

"New York is once again leading the way by using every tool at our disposal to beat this virus and expanding monitoring for these emerging variants will help us remain ahead of the pandemic as more New Yorkers become fully vaccinated," Cuomo said. "You can do your part to help contain the spread by getting vaccinated in order to protect yourself and those around you."

As part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases Enhancing Detection Expansion supplement, the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center received approval to use $20 million to establish a sequencing partnership with external laboratories.

The five laboratories, including Upstate's SUNY Molecular Analysis Core (located in the Institute for Human Performance; Cornell University—Virology Laboratory (Cornell Animal Health Diagnostic Center); University at Buffalo - Genomics and Bioinformatics Core; University of Rochester Medical Center - UR Medicine Central Laboratory; New York Medical College - Genomics Core Laboratory.

According to Professor Frank Middleton, PhD, who serves as founder and scientific director of the core lab, Upstate has already tested and sequenced the SARS COV-2 virus—which causes COVID-19—of 2 million samples from across the state.

New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of whole genome sequencing in identifying variants of concern that are continuously monitored by the Wadsworth Center as an integral part of our public health response. We are pleased to announce this new partnership that will expand this surveillance ability statewide and assist in ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response efforts. Again, we encourage all eligible New Yorkers to get vaccinated, as that is the best way to avoid serious illness."

This effort aims to greatly expand genetic sequencing on SARS-CoV-2 positive specimens derived from the general population of New York State outside of New York City, thus building on our current robust genome/variant surveillance efforts and characterization of the transmission and spread of SARS-CoV-2 across the State. In addition to surveillance, the data generated will help build our understanding of disease manifestations, therapy or vaccine evasion and efficacy, and will support other discoveries to inform public health intervention. Sequencing results from the partner laboratories will be reported to the New York State Department of Health and the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data.