KDHE says genetic sequencing equipment is available

Vincent Marshall
Dodge City Daily Globe
KDHE says it has the ability to test samples for the COVID-19 variants with genetic sequencing equipment and is working with the CDC to sequence additional samples.

On Jan. 7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted information regarding the COVID-19 variants that have popped up across the United Kingdom and South Africa that have now made their way to the U.S.

"Information about the characteristics of these variants is rapidly emerging," the CDC said. "Scientists are working to learn more about how easily they might spread, whether they could cause more severe illness, and whether currently authorized vaccines will protect people against them.

"At this time, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death."

What is taking place is the variant is more easily and quickly spread than other variants, the CDC said.

According to Kansas Department of Health and Environment communications director Kristi Zears, if a person has the variant of the virus, it will show up as a positive test with current COVID-19 testing.

"Most testing does not show genetic sequencing unless there is specific equipment to run such a test," Zears said. "The genetic sequencing is what indicates the variant strain of COVID-19. The KDHE lab does have the capability to look for this variant with our genetic sequencing equipment.

"However, we do not fully sequence every positive sample that comes through.

"We are participating with CDC to sequence additional samples as part of a national effort to document possible variants in the population."

According to a report Friday from the Associated Press regarding the two variants, new research suggests Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against the mutations. However, the preliminary study had not looked at the vaccines distributed by Moderna and AstraZeneca.

On Jan. 7, Gov. Laura Kelly released an outline of the vaccine distribution phases for COVID-19, with Phase 1 already underway.

The phases are as follows:

Phase 1: Health care workers

Residents or patients in long-term care facilities and senior housing. Workers critical to pandemic response continuity.

Phase 2: Persons aged 65 and older

High-contact critical workers necessary to maintain systems, assets, and activities that are vital to the state security, the economy or public health, or who interact with large numbers of contacts and job-related COVID-19 exposure. COVID-19 risk is associated with the likelihood of infecting oneself or spreading the virus. Factors that increase risk include proximity, type of contact, duration of contacts and challenges to implement protective measures. This includes firefighters, police officers, first responders, and correction officers; grocery store workers and food services; K-12 and child care workers, including teachers, custodians, drivers, and other staff; food processing, including meat processing plants; large-scale aviation manufacturing plants; transportation workers; workers in retail, agriculture, supply of critical services or materials for COVID-19 response, the U.S. Postal Service and Department of Motor Vehicles; those living or working in licensed congregate settings and other special care or congregate environments where social distancing is not possible, including homeless shelters; congregate child care institutions; emergency shelters or safe houses; corrections facilities and behavioral health institutions.

Phase 3: Those aged 16-64 with serious medical conditions that increase the risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Those severe illnesses include cancer; chronic kidney disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Down syndrome; heart conditions like cardiomyopathies; Immunocompromised state from solid organ transplant; Type 2 diabetes; sickle cell disease and pregnant patients.

Other non-health care workers in critical infrastructure who cannot work remotely include agricultural and food workers not included in previous phases; workers performing in-person activities indoors, in critical manufacturing, not included in previous phases.

Phase 4: Those aged 16-64 with other medical conditions that increase the risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Those medical conditions include asthma; cerebrovascular disease; cystic fibrosis; Immunocompromised state from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, or use of immune weakening medicines; neurologic conditions such as dementia; liver disease; pulmonary fibrosis; Type 1 diabetes and obesity and severe obesity.

Phase 5: The rest of the population 16 and older

Potentially children, dependent upon further research on the effectiveness and risks associated with vaccinating kids.

“These COVID-19 vaccination phase groups were created using guidance from national and state public health experts and with input from the Kansas Coronavirus Vaccine Advisory Council, or COVAC, which represents a diverse group of populations in Kansas,” Kelly said. “My priority remains providing every Kansan with updates and information on vaccine schedules as we get them and to get everyone vaccinated as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

To contact the writer, email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com.