UNION — The omicron variant has been grabbing headlines and the attention of infectious disease experts nationwide as cases continue to spike.

Now, Kean University’s COVID-19 Diagnostic Lab has begun testing for the omicron variant, by conducting genomic sequencing.

“Our COVID-19 Diagnostic Lab now plays a critical role in keeping tabs on the virus’ mutations to inform the public and provide key information to health officials,” said Kean President Lamont O. Repollet.

Since it began its operations, the lab has identified every variant that preceded omicron, including the delta variant which continues to be the dominant strain of COVID in New Jersey and across the U.S.

“The New York-New Jersey area is an obvious likely target for initiation and spread within the United States. We felt that we needed to be at the forefront, with a sentinel effect to detect Omicron when it occurs in Union County,” said Keith Bostian, dean of Kean’s New Jersey Center for Science, Technology and Mathematics.

So far, the Kean lab has not found omicron in any of the COVID-positive samples it has processed but Bostian said it’s only a matter of time.

While early data shows the omicron variant may be more transmissible but perhaps causes less serious illness, Bostian said more data is needed. The lab has the capacity to increase what they’re doing if there is a desire on the state level to do more substantial COVID sequencing, he added.

If the lab continues with surveillance in real time, it might be able to figure out what the next variants of COVID-19 may be.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more data is needed to know if omicron infections, and especially breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants. Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illnesses, hospitalizations and even deaths due to the new variant but breakthrough infections are likely to occur.

The federally certified lab opened at Kean in early January in an effort to speed up results for the Union County COVID-19 testing site on campus. At the lab, up to 2,000 tests are processed each week.

Answers to 25 common COVID-19 vaccine questions

Vaccinations for COVID-19 began being administered in the U.S. on Dec. 14, 2020. The quick rollout came a little more than a year after the virus was first identified in November 2019. The impressive speed with which vaccines were developed has also left a lot of people with a lot of questions. The questions range from the practical—how will I get vaccinated?—to the scientific—how do these vaccines even work?

Keep reading to discover answers to 25 common COVID-19 vaccine questions.

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