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UB experts reviewing positive COVID samples for latest variant

"We have literally hundreds of samples"
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Posted at 5:46 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 18:25:56-05

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — “So far, we have not see the Omicron variant in Erie County or Western New York,” noted Dr. Jennifer Surtees, co-director, UB’s Genome, Environment & Microbiome Community of Excellence.

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At UB labs, experts extract RNA from positive COVID samples into DNA to conduct sequences that allows them to detect variants.

University at Buffalo research experts on are the look out for the Omicron variant in our region.

Throughout pandemic, experts at UB’s genome sequencing center have been working to identify all the COVID variants.

The lab at is locate at the Jacobs School of Medicine.

Dr. Surtess says it is where they work constantly to extract RNA from positive COVID samples into DNA to conduct sequences that allows them to detect variants.

“What is it like when you discover a variant — what happens in this lab?” Buckley questioned.

“When we first saw them, it was kind of this double edge sword — it's kind of cool to see one of these things that is affecting public health and to be the ones to identify it, but at the same time it means we've got something that we need to worry about in our community,” replied Surtees.

But right now, Surtees says they have not identified Omicron.

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Dr. Jennifer Surtees, co-director, UB’s Genome, Environment & Microbiome Community of Excellence.

“We haven't found the Omicron here yet, but we have (COVID) cases going like crazy. Rates going up like crazy in Erie County — it's all Delta,” declared Surtees.

“Delta is still the predominate strain in Western New York — in Erie County,” stated DR. Gale Burstein, commissioner, Erie County Department of Health.

Commissioner Burstein said Tuesday, during the County’s COVID briefing, that COVID PCR tests conducted in the county's public health lab will be able to detect the Omicron variant.

UB says the county sends all its positive COVID case samples to its lab, so they can check for those variants.

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Inside UB Genome lab.

“It will be really interesting to see if Omicron and Delta will co-exist or if one will dominate over the other,” Surtees explained.

Surtees says they are reviewing hundreds of COVID positive samples that have poured into the lab over the last couple of weeks, trying to detect the new variant.

“We have literally hundreds of samples that are in our pipeline right now. We’re cranking through those samples and we're obviously keeping an eye out for not only Delta but the Omicron variant as well,” Surtees remarked.

Surtees says they received 450 new positive samples Wednesday morning.

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Inside UB's Genome lab.

Right now, experts say what we don't know yet is if the new variant is more transmissible, if people will become more or less sick and how it will react to the vaccines.

“All of the variants have responded to the vaccine and this current one is sort of a mishmash of previous variants to a large extent,” Surtees said.

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Inside UB lab.

But so far, doctors in South Africa, here this variant was first identified, say they’re only seeing mild to moderate symptoms in patients who are fully vaccinated.

"It will be interesting to see how it relates to the Delta variant — if one out completes the other," Surtees said. "I expect we will still see decent vaccine efficacy with this particular variant."