New Jersey is slated to get nearly $5.8 million in early May from the Biden administration to ramp up its testing of several highly contagious variants of COVID-19 spreading across the state and nationwide, the White House announced on April 16.
The money for New Jersey is part of $1 billion being split between the federal Centers for Disease Control and all 50 states, seven U.S. territories and overseas islands, and some of the nation’s largest cities, all to “improve their capacity to identify COVID mutations,” the White House statement continues.
“It will allow CDC and jurisdictional health departments to conduct, expand and improve activities to sequence, genome and identify mutations,” says the statement.
New York City is getting nearly $5.5 million, while Philadelphia is getting $1.7 million.
While state and federal health officials contend that the more contagious strains are becoming the dominant COVID-19 forms in the United States, they’ve warned that public health resources are sorely lacking to quickly and accurately identify which COVID-19 cases are from the variants.
As of March 27, the B.1.1.7 strain first detected in the United Kingdom accounted for 44% of all positive cases in the nation, according to the CDC.
In New Jersey, there were 1,114 known B.1.1.7 positive cases, 157 cases of the B.1.526 strain first detected in New York City, 19 cases of the P.1 strain first detected in Brazil and two cases of P.2 first detected in South Africa.
Gov. Phil Murphy and other state health officials say the recent surge in variants and overall new cases is largely due to the state’s dense population and its proximity to New York City, the largest city in the nation.
“We are looking to increase the total number of variant testing we’re doing. At this point, I’d say we’re testing somewhere in the neighborhood of roughly 2% of our positives. We’d like to get that higher,” Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the state’s communicable disease service medical director, said during a March 29 COVID-19 press briefing.
He noted a surge at the time of variants being detected in Ocean County but said that variant testing was lagging enough that health officials could not determine if the area was having more variants, or if they were just being reported more.
Ocean County has the most detected variants out of all 21 counties.
“At this point, I don’t have an exact answer because our testing isn’t random enough to get a good sense of that,” Lifshitz said.
The two other major variants of concern are one first detected in Brazil, and another first detected in South Africa. The existing COVID-19 vaccines – Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna – are widely considered effective against the variants.
But Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said this week that people will “likely” need a booster dose 12 months after getting their second shot.e