DSHS and Partners Create Network to Analyze COVID-19 Variants in Texas

News Release
Nov. 4, 2021

The Texas Department of State Health Services is partnering with universities and laboratories across Texas to expand genomic sequencing of the virus that causes COVID-19. The new Texas SARS-CoV-2 Variant Network will sequence and study more COVID-19 samples from around the state to provide a better picture of circulating and emerging variants of the COVID-19 virus.

“It is important that we know which SARS-CoV-2 variants are here in Texas, no matter where in Texas they are appearing,” said Jennifer Shuford, MD, Chief State Epidemiologist and co-chair of the network’s steering committee. “By establishing a network of sequencing labs and analytical teams, we can use the skill and scientific knowhow in our state to understand how COVID-19 is changing in Texas, how it might affect our communities, and how we can best keep Texans healthy and safe,” Shuford said.

Sequencing a portion of the COVID-19 cases gives a good indication of the variants that are circulating in the state. Modeling work has begun to calculate how much sequencing is needed across various regions to rapidly detect the occurrence of new variants. The Network is expected to increase current sequencing in Texas by at least 25 percent.

Variants occur when viruses replicate. Some variants are detected with no consequences, while others continue to spread and overtake previous versions of the virus. For instance, the variant of the virus that caused the first Texas COVID-19 cases in 2020 is no longer being detected here. It was displaced by the Alpha variant early in 2021, which has now been almost entirely replaced by the Delta variant.

DSHS has contracted with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston) School of Public Health to coordinate with academic centers and commercial laboratories from around the state. UTHealth School of Public Health will also collaborate with the Meyers Lab at UT Austin to develop reliable strategies for selecting samples from around the state to ensure novel and existing variants in Texas are identified.

This project is supported by Texas’ Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases grant through May 2023.

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(News Media Contact: pressofficer@dshs.texas.gov)

Last updated November 4, 2021