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Charleston, W.Va. -- More than 73% of COVID-19 samples tested in West Virginia during the month of July were the highly contagious Delta variant, according to state health officials.
That means that while West Virginia's COVID-19 dashboard, last updated on Friday, says that officials have detected 129 cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in the state, the number is likely much higher.
According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, public health surveillance workers determine the variant of COVID-19 in only a fraction of cases.
Jessica Holstein, DHHR spokeswoman, said in an email that more than 73% of the positive specimens genetically sequenced for a variant were Delta during the month of July. As of Friday morning, they had determined the variants for 144 cases in July; of those, 102 were of Delta, 30 Alpha, and 3 Gamma, according to Holstein. There were 3,374 confirmed and probable cases during the month.
"Whole genome sequencing helps characterize the virus and where it originates from, which can influence how the virus reacts," she wrote. "The process of sequencing requires positive PCR specimens to be sent to a lab for sequencing. The entire process including notification, shipping time, and actually running the test takes approximately 2 weeks."
The Delta variant, which is behind the current surge in cases, is more contagious, than other variants previously identified, according to the CDC.
Holstein said there are several requirements for testing. The sample can't be taken from a rapid antigen test.
"In most instances by the time we get sequencing results back, the individual has already recovered and contacts have been released from quarantine, so it has little impact on public health action," she wrote.
Those requirements for testing are standard, she said.
"The SARS-CoV-2 genome encodes instructions organized into sections, called genes, to build the virus," she wrote. "Scientists use a process called genomic sequencing to decode the genes and learn more about the virus. Genomic sequencing allows scientists to identify SARS-CoV-2 and monitor how it changes over time into new variants, understand how these changes affect the characteristics of the virus, and use this information to better understand how it might impact health."
SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. Viruses like SARS-CoV-2 constantly change over time, so new variants can occur that are more dangerous, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
West Virginia has sequenced over 10,000 specimens which represents 6.1% of cumulative cases sequenced, according to Holstein. She also offered the percent of specimens sequenced for some surrounding states:
This story was first reported by journalist Erin Beck and published on erinbeckwv.com. Any information obtained from this story and not from original reporting should be attributed to Erin Beck.
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