PMLS is prepared with advanced COVID-19 management strategies

The United States’ first confirmed case of the Omicron coronavirus variant has been identified in California. In a White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the virus is present in an individual who traveled to California from South Africa, where the variant was first reported. Dr. Fauci said the individual is self-quarantining and is experiencing “mild symptoms, which are improving at this point.”

The California Public Health Departments confirmed the case was caused by the Omicron variant through Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). The sequence was confirmed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reported today. They’re also using NGS to answer questions like, how transmissible is it and how severe is the disease it causes? Next Generation Sequencing has allowed us to search for answers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why Premier Medical Laboratory Services (PMLS) has implemented one of the largest initiatives for NGS in the US with a capacity to sequence the genomes of 21,000 specimens per week, a capacity that surpasses most laboratories due to PMLS’ implementation of cutting-edge high throughput lab equipment which automates workflow.

Dr. Vidhya Narayanan, the Technical Lab Director of Premier Medical Laboratory Services, who previously served as the Genomics Scientist for the CDC says “not a lot is known about the Omicron variant yet, and even if its transmission rates are found to be higher than the Delta variant, that still doesn’t mean that it’s more deadly. But there is a huge demand right now for COVID labs that are doing PCR testing to also conduct sequencing like we are at PMLS so that we can slow the spread of this variant early on.” She went on to say, “Out of all of the labs that conduct COVID-19 testing, only about 1 out of 100 are also conducting sequencing initiatives. Because of labs like ours, who are conducting NGS, we should know more over the next few days about Omicron.”

The Omicron variant is the quickest to be labeled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) because of its seemingly fast spread in South Africa. Besides Africa, the Omicron variant has been detected in several counties including Canada, and now the US. The positive test from California was first detected on November 29th. The CDC said the Omicron variant was identified in under 30 hours “from the time of collection to strain confirmation.”

President Biden said Monday “It’s a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.” He also urged Americans, again, to get vaccinated and to get their booster shot, saying it’s the best protection against this new variant, as well as any others. However, scientists now worry the Omicron variant may be able to evade the body’s immune responses, both to vaccination and to natural infection, more than prior versions of the virus. As scientists continue to scramble for data, they believe the current vaccines should work on the variant for now. Still, the makers of the two most effective vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are preparing to reformulate their shots if necessary.

A slew of travel bans went into effect after the news of the Omicron variant emerging. For the US, restricted travel from several countries in Southern Africa went into effect Monday, giving the US more time to respond. President Biden said he would put forward a “detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.”

As COVID-19 variants continue to impact the health of our nation, vaccination and testing mandates are becoming a reality we all have to adjust to. At PMLS, our goal is to make this as easy and effective as possible so that our economy and our population remain healthy and safe. We are teaming up with employers across the country to provide testing solutions and prevention strategies, slow the spread of COVID-19, and provide a mandate compliance framework that will best protect our communities. Click here to read about our COVID management program.