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Tampa Bay lab works to detect new COVID-19 variants

A team in a USF College of Public Health lab will be running test samples from Tampa General Hospital and USF to find new contagious variants of the virus.

TAMPA, Fla — The White House Coronavirus Task Force is not ruling out the possibility of the U.S. developing its own mutated variant of COVID-19. But, local doctors are among those who are skeptical.

“Unless they have evidence for it, it shouldn't be anywhere really. I mean, if you're just speculating whether it exists, it shouldn't be in a report,” USF Public Health Virologist Dr. Michael Teng says.

Right now there's no data to show the U.S. has a dominant mutation of the virus.

While it's still uncertain, scientists continue to track the U.K. variant that's 40-60% more contagious. 

“It's really important that as many laboratories as possible keep track of these mutations and see where they're going,” USF Public Health Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Jill Roberts said

That's exactly what a USF College of Public Health lab will be doing. After seeing a spike in cases, Dr. Thomas Unnasch and his well-equipped staff will be searching for new mutations of COVID-19. 

“We've made a decision to go ahead and start to look for the spread of this new U.K variant that's moving throughout the world now. It's been detected in Florida in several cases,” Unnasch said.

63 cases of the U.K's highly contagious variant have been detected in the U.S. So far, 22 of them are in Florida. 

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
CDC continues to monitor COVID-19 variant from the U.K.

Unnasch says they're already archiving COVID-19 test samples from USF and Tampa General Hospital. They'll be run in a lab next week.

“It's going to really allow us to monitor in real-time how this virus is changing in response to, you know, what selective pressures it has as it moves throughout the population,” Unnasch said.

The molecular epidemiology will be used to find any kind of variant of COVID-19 that way testing and vaccines can be adjusted accordingly.

“What's gonna happen when we do that is we're gonna find whatever's there, so if there's actually a U.S. variant there, we should pick that up when we do the testing to try to find the U.K. version. The reality is we should know relatively quickly,” Roberts said.

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