A new report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security addresses the status of SARS-CoV-2 surveillance, sequencing, and the three emerging variant strains, establishing four policy recommendations to identify and manage them.
“Staying Ahead of the Variants: Policy Recommendations to Identify and Manage Current and Future Variants of Concern” had a primary goal of recommending actions the U.S. government should take to increase response capacity. With funding for increased genomic surveillance and other significant research investments expected in the next Congressional supplemental, the report authors focused on specific efforts above others.
“Genomic surveillance is a powerful tool for outbreak response,” said Lane Warmbrod, a senior analyst at the Center and a co-author of the report. “Not only will it provide vital information to improve response to COVID-19 right now, but investing in building a genomic surveillance infrastructure now will also improve response to outbreaks in the future.”
More variants are expected to emerge and spread the longer the virus remains embedded throughout the world. In response, the authors’ four priorities were:
- Maintain public health measures like mask mandates, social distancing requirements, and limiting gatherings, as they slow transmission.
- Push contact tracing and case investigation to better allow public health officials to observe variant behavior.
- Develop a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-led genomic surveillance strategy to create a program capable of guiding public health response, maximize resources and guarantee equitable distribution.
- Bolster coordination for that genomic surveillance and provide leadership to create a network capable of informing public health policies for concerning variants.
“Although viral mutation is inevitable, it is possible to anticipate, manage and mitigate the threat to our collective public health,” said Dr. Caitlin Rivers, Senior Scholar at the Center and a co-author of the report. “The key to staying ahead of a rapidly evolving virus is to maintain a continuous, systematic genomic surveillance and functional characterization capability that is able to rapidly detect and evaluate new variants of concern.”