As new variants of the novel coronavirus are discovered in Illinois and around the United States, Rush University Medical Center is launching a new advanced molecular laboratory that will help detect new strains and other key information about the virus in Chicago.
In a press release, the hospital announced that the Chicago Department of Public Health had awarded the facility a $3.5 million contract to create the new laboratory, which will involve a partnership between Rush, the CDPH, and other local academic medical centers in Chicago.
According to the release, COVID-19 positive specimens will be collected at hospitals across the city, and the new Rush laboratory will use molecular biology tools, including whole genome sequencing, to determine several key pieces of information from each specimen.
The lab will be able to detect existing strains of the virus, including new ones that originated in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa. The lab could also potentially detect new strains of the virus that have not previously been identified.
In addition, the lab will be tasked with determining whether people who become ill from COVID for a second time simply relapsed, were re-infected by the virus, or if they were infected with a different strain of the virus. Those bits of information are key to learning more about how the virus spreads, and whether new variants could re-infect individuals who have already been diagnosed with COVID-19 previously.
The lab will help health officials to determine which strains of the virus are circulating in Chicago, potentially leading to pre-emptive changes in COVID restrictions if more virulent-strains are behind any rise in infections.
Finally, the lab will be able to determine whether variants of the virus are more or less likely to cause infection after individuals have been vaccinated against the virus.