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Finding the Omicron variant is like finding a needle in a haystack, experts say

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 4:54 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - People are on high alert after the number of Omicron variant cases rise, including one in Minnesota. Local health experts say it’s probably already in the Red River Valley.

According to those experts finding the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is like finding a needle in a haystack.

While the variant hasn’t been confirmed in North Dakota, ‘the virus does not care about state borders,’ according to Essentia Health Dr. Bill Heegaard.

He said it’s just a matter of finding it, a labor-intensive process that takes time. That process is something the Minnesota Department of Health is known for.

“One of the more prominent labs in the country who does all of the genomic sequencings and has the cutting edge technology for testing,” said Sanford Health Dr. Avish Nagpal.

The North Dakota Department of Health is maxing out its resources to sequence as many COVID-19 tests as they can, and the process is no easy feat. Only PCR tests can be submitted for genetic sequencing while rapid antigen tests remain popular because of the quick results. The tests also have to be held to a certain standard.

“It’s got to be a quality specimen,” said North Dakota Department of Health Disease Control and Forensic Pathology Section Chief Kirby Kruger.

Hospital organizations send their tests to the state department of health, but which tests get the sequence is completely randomized. Experts say the coming weeks will be crucial for discovering how the Omicron variant stacks up against its predecessors.

Dr. Heegaard says the discovery of new variants is something people should get used to.

“I don’t know the whole greek alphabet but we’re going to be using all of them,” said Dr. Heegaard.

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