The U.S. government is planning to allocate $1.7 billion to track newer, more contagious strains of the COVID-19 variants making their way through the world. The funding is earmarked to improve monitoring, early detection, and mitigation measures of the more dangerous strains.
Currently, newer coronavirus variants make up nearly 50 percent of all the Covid cases in the U.S. According to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, some of the mutations are 70 percent more contagious than the original strain, which began its global assault early last year.
Walensky said at a press briefing that the virus’s spread “makes the race to stop the transmission even more challenging and threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system again in parts of this country.”
She said the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7., made up 44 percent of all Covid strains circulating in the U.S. during the final week of March, also citing that the spread of newer variants is “very concerning” and leading to a rise in COVID-19 cases, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations. Also, the average number of deaths each day has increased three days in a row and is now at over 700 deaths a day. On Friday, though, U.S. deaths from Covid reached 940.
Infectious disease physician, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has pointed out that B.1.1.7. is “very well covered by the vaccines that we are using,” citing that even though some people may be initially infected with the variant, the vaccines protect “against severe disease.”
Government officials and healthcare workers have been urging Americans to get their vaccines to aid in protection against newer variants.
Fauci said, “We are in a race between vaccinating as many people as quickly and as expeditiously as we possibly can, and the threat of the resurgence of viruses in our country.”
The $1.7 billion will be directed from the Covid relief plan that was signed in March when the government approved $1.9 trillion to help fight the coronavirus. The White House says $1 billion of the $1.9 trillion will aid the CDC and health officials to expand their genomic sequencing activities, allowing them to more easily identify new mutations of the virus.
According to Walensky, “The emergence of variants underscores the critical need for rapid and ongoing genomic surveillance.”
U.S. officials said that $400 million of the funds “will fuel cutting-edge research into genomic epidemiology” through six centers of collaboration between academic institutions and health departments.
$300 million is targeted for the bioinformatics infrastructure, towards “creating a unified system for sharing and analyzing sequence data in a way that protects privacy but allows more informed decision-making,” according to the White House.
Individual states will also receive $240 million of the funding early in May to help their fight against the virus. California, Texas, and Florida will be allotted more of the funds since those states have been hit the hardest.