Aegis Sciences, a Nashville-based lab company that has focused on COVID testing since the pandemic began, has now been tapped to help the country track rapidly spreading COVID variants.
Lab director Matt Hardison tells WPLN News that Aegis is one of several national lab companies that have signed contracts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to perform genome sequencing. Aegis will be expected to sequence 10,000 positive tests each week for nearly a year.
The samples would come from around the country and be representative of a local outbreak. For instance, a county might send 100 positive samples, and if 33% are found to be the U.K. variant, epidemiologists could assume roughly a third of new cases are the more contagious variant.
Rapid sequencing did require Aegis to upgrade lab equipment and retrain lab personnel who’ve primarily conducted the standard RT-PCR test that confirms COVID. Hardison uses an analogy to explain the difference between the two.
“If somebody reads you a few pages out of any one of the Lord of the Rings books and they mention Frodo, and the ring and Gandalf, you’re probably going to have a good idea it’s a Lord of the Rings book. And that’s kind of the RT-PCR,” Hardison says. “But you’re not going to know which book it is without reading the entire thing or at least a large section of it.”
Last week, the Biden administration announced it will spend $1.7 billion to increase surveillance of the variants, which have led to surges in Michigan and the Northeast.