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Biden officials announce funds to track virus variants

Biden officials announce funds to track virus variants
© MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is investing roughly $200 million in an effort to triple the country's genomic sequencing, the process crucial to tracking the spread of new, more contagious variants of the virus.

The move is one of three actions officials announced Wednesday aimed at boosting testing. The administration will also invest $650 million to help improve testing for K-8 schools as well as other gathering places like homeless shelters. Another $815 million will go toward ramping up domestic manufacturing of testing supplies.

The sequencing effort to track the variants is one of the most urgent, though, given that experts say greatly expanding the current capability is crucial to understanding how widely the concerning coronavirus variants are spreading, and identifying new possible variants.

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Carole Johnson, the White House testing coordinator, said the new funds will allow a threefold increase in genomic sequencing, up to 25,000 samples a week, though she did not provide a timeline for when that threshold will be met.

"As a result we'll identify COVID variants sooner and better target our efforts to stop the spread," she said.

"Time is critical when it comes to these fast-moving variants," she added.

The testing funds will help match demand at places like schools with "underutilized testing capacity" at labs around the country, Johnson said.

President Biden has been pushing hard for his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to pass Congress, and officials emphasized that the funding announced Wednesday is only a "bridge" until Congress approves more testing funding as part of that massive package.