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Rhode Island awarded $1.5 million to track virus mutations

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island has been awarded nearly $1.5 million in federal funding to expand efforts to track COVID-19 mutations, state officials announced Wednesday.

The funding comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was included as part of the $1.9 trillion relief bill that President Joe Biden signed last month. The White House recently announced that $1 billion would go to the CDC and state and local health agencies for genomic sequencing to track virus mutations.

Gov. Dan McKee said the funding comes at a crucial time. The Rhode Island Department of Health has estimated that more than half of the state’s new COVID-19 cases are caused by variants.

“Rhode Island is in a race against time with vaccines and variants,” McKee said in a statement. “As we continue to get shots in arms, investing in data collection is an asset that will help protect Rhode Islanders and our neighbors across the country.”

The new funding will be used to collect COVID-19 specimens, sequence the genetic makeup of viruses and share the data. The funding is expected to be distributed in early May.

It’s intended to help respond to existing mutations along with future variants of COVID-19 and other viruses.

“While existing vaccines have proven largely effective against mutations so far, the potential emergence of new variants remains a big question mark hanging over the long-term recovery from the pandemic,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said in a statement.

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