Upstate company tracking down new COVID-19 variant in the community

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GREENVILLE CO., S.C. (WSPA) – An upstate company, Premier Medical Laboratory Services, is playing a pivotal role in tracking down the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, in the community.

Scientists are using machines to take samples, from both college students and Upstate community members, to determine which COVID-19 variants are present in our area.

The lab is working to find characteristics of Omicron, in samples they are sequencing. They’ve been doing PCR testing, where they test for active infections, for all 50 states. They’re also doing Next Genetic Sequencing, which is looking at which variant is responsible when a test comes back positive.

“We are receiving many samples from Clemson now to hopefully stumble upon the Omicron eventually to where we can bring it in house and the research development department can characterize the virus,” said Dr. Stewart Holt, with the lab.

Dr. Stewart Holt, Technical Director in Research and Development for the lab, said they’re searching for the new variant to be able to answer how much of an impact it will have.

“Is it going to affect the PCR? Is it going to affect anti-body testing? Is it going to affect the vaccinations? Those are still questions that are out there, but again, we’re positioned nicely to be able to address those,” he said.

Premiere Medical Laboratory Services is one of the few labs in the Southeast that can do this sort of testing. Dr. Holt says each variant is just a mutation of the virus.

“It literally is a thinking organism that will say okay, if I mutate this way, I’ll be able to attach to your nasal cavity a little bit more, invade your cell and replicate and become more survivable,” said Dr. Holt.

He said Omicron is a mutation that is easier to attach, replicate and survive. He said they run thousands of tests to determine which variant caused the positive test. Their big hurdle is finding a test with the Omicron variant.

Dr. Holt said there are still a lot of questions, but they plan to help find the answers to them. He said even though the Omicron variant is the newest, it appears the Delta variant is the most common and causes the most severe symptoms in people.

Dr. Holt said the emergence of these variants emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated, wearing your mask, and social distancing at times.

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