Virology lab is on close watch for omicron

Researchers at UW Medicine’s Virology Laboratory think the omicron variant of COVID-19 will inevitably be detected locally.

“It's likely at pretty low frequency right now, given that we haven't picked it up in samples from the last couple of weeks," says Pavitra Roychoudhury, acting instructor of laboratory medicine at UW Medicine. "I think it's a matter of time, given how connected the world is (and) given how much travel has been occurring over the last few weeks and months.”

Roychoudhury heads genomic sequencing, the process to determine the approximately 30,000-letter pattern of the virus' genome in a positive COVID-19 test sample. This process detected the local presence of delta and other variants.

UW Medicine’s Virology Lab has the capacity to sequence 2,000 test samples per week. The lab also can screen for a particular mutation found in the omicron variant, and increase efforts to spot it, via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Monitoring the rate of omicron-positive samples over the coming weeks and months will be important to help researchers determine how transmissible the variant is, Roychoudhury says.

“Our ability to sequence a large number of samples every week has certainly bolstered the confidence that we will find this variant."

View current sequencing trends at UW Medicine’s Virology Laboratory. 

Access downloadable video assets on the efforts to track COVID-19 variants, and b-roll of genomic sequencing in the Virology Lab.

UW Medicine