Creighton, CHI partner with Nebraska DHHS to do COVID variant testing


(Undated) -- Creighton University and CHI HEalth are partnering with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to perform COVID variant testing to help with the state’s COVID-19 response.

The partnership means any positive PCR COVID-19 test results from CHI Health lab will be tested to see if they are any of the known COVID variants. As of Monday, the state had confirmed 140 cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant (the U.K. variant), 42 cases of the B1.427/B1.429 variant (the California variant), and two cases of the P.1 variant (the Brazil variant) in Nebraska.

Health leaders say the sequencing is crucial in the fight against COVID-19. When a variant is detected, that case becomes a priority for contact tracing, in order to control variant spread. Dr. Maureen Tierney, assistant dean for Public Health at Creighton, urges the public to continue to prevent transmission of the virus. “As variant strains, which are more easily transmissible and possibly more deadly, become more common, it is more important than ever to encourage vaccination and continuation of wearing masks and social distancing,” said Tierney. “The vaccines appear to be efficacious against most variant strains.”

Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan, CHI Health chief of Infectious Disease, added that, “This is not a time to let our guard down. Hospitalization rates among younger individuals are increasing due to them being more susceptible to these highly transmissible variant strains. We need to remain vigilant,” said Vivekanandan.

Creighton is one of three labs in the state identifying COVID-19 variants for DHHS. Positive samples from CHI Health COVID-19 testing sites will be examined at Creighton’s lab, through a new sequencer that can identify known and unknown variants of the COVID-19 virus.

“This DHHS-Creighton-CHI collaboration will support sequencing more specimens from CHI's diverse network of facilities throughout the state. Adding Creighton University School of Medicine/CHI Health expertise and capacity to the SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance programs at the Nebraska Public Health Lab and UNMC College of Public Health will expand genomic surveillance capabilities at a time when it’s critically needed,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, chief medical officer and director of the Division of Public Health for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

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