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URMC lab chosen to perform COVID-19 genome sequencing

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University of Rochester Medical Center
The University of Rochester Medical Center is opening a new laboratory in Henrietta to make room for new equipment and a growing staff.

As the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to spread, New York state’s health department is seeking help from external laboratories to track emerging variants.

The state’s sole genome sequencing institution, Wadsworth Center in Albany, received approval to use $20 million to establish a sequencing partnership with five other laboratories. 

UR Medicine Central Laboratory is one of the labs that submitted a proposal, and it was chosen to participate in this collaboration.

The UR lab will be in charge of sequencing 10% of positive test samples collected locally and from surrounding counties and sending the data to the state for analysis. 

Dr. Dwight Hardy, the director of clinical microbiology for UR Medicine labs, said this expansion may help expedite the identification of any mutations within the state.

“If everyone’s sending specimens to one laboratory, sometimes there's a bit of a wait,” Hardy said. “If we do it here, I think the one advantage is it'll be done, hopefully, a bit quicker.”

Hardy said while they wait on more direction from the state’s health department, the lab is equipped to handle sequencing the region’s current caseload. He said that could change if a surge occurs.

“If our positivity rate were to increase significantly, then we might need to consider additional instrumentation, but at the present, I think we'll be fine with the instrumentation we have,” Hardy said.

As of Wednesday, 69.2% of Monroe County residents have received at least one vaccine dose. However, Hardy said there are still enough unvaccinated people to help the virus mutate.

“We can’t predict what the virus is going to do. We can't predict how it will mutate,” Hardy said. “But it's our job to try and keep up with the virus as it mutates and understand the impact of those mutations.”

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.