On February 18, The Monterey County Health Department’s Public Health Laboratory announced the launch of local genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 variants. The Public Health Laboratory acquired the technology to perform this highly specialized testing in late 2020. The new program begins at a critical time during the COVID-19 pandemic when new variants are being detected in the United States, including the B.1.1.7. (United Kingdom), B.1.351 (South Africa), B.1.429, and B.1.427 (L452R) variants. Early data from the Monterey County Public Health Laboratory indicates the L452R variant may represent up to 70% of SARS-CoV-2 circulating locally. Prior to initiating genomic surveillance locally, the Monterey County Public Health Laboratory, like other local public health laboratories in California, has been sending specimens to CDPH and the CDC weekly for sequencing as part of CDC’s SARS-CoV-2 National Surveillance Program (NS3).
Viruses are constantly changing, including the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These genetic variations occur over time and can lead to the emergence of new variants that may have different characteristics. Surveillance such as that being conducted in the Monterey County Public Health Laboratory can help detect new variants with the ability to:
- Spread more quickly among people
- Cause either milder or more severe disease in people
- Evade detection by specific diagnostic tests
- Decrease their susceptibility to therapeutics that employ monoclonal antibodies
- Evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity
While vaccine supplies remain scarce and new variants continue to spread, it is important that all Monterey County residents continue to adhere to COVID-19 prevention strategies like:
- Staying home except for essential activities
- Wearing a mask when leaving home
- Limiting interactions with people outside your immediate household
- Keeping physical distance of at least 6 feet apart
- Washing hands for 20 seconds
- Getting the COVID-19 vaccine if you are eligible and vaccine is available
For more information, visit the Monterey County Health Department’s website at: www.montereycountycovid19.org or call 2-1-1.