New Jersey has additional groups devoted to tracking and diagnosing COVID-19 variants, which have been cited as a primary reason for another surge of cases in the Garden State.

The Center for Discovery and Innovation within Hackensack Meridian Health, comprising 17 hospitals in New Jersey, has developed a test that within a couple of hours can detect multiple variants of COVID-19 that may be more contagious or more resistant to certain treatment.

If a coronavirus test comes back positive within the health network, the CDI is receiving it for analysis.

Dr. David Perlin, the CDI's chief scientific officer, said detecting the key mutation helps the state better track the evolution of COVID-19 and helps doctors treat their patients.

"The mutation that's associated with the South African and Brazilian variants — that particular virus is resistant to one of the antibody cocktails," Perlin explained.

Perlin said the center has the ability to run several hundred of these tests per day. Right now, that capacity far exceeds the daily number of positive coronavirus cases throughout the Hackensack Meridian Health network.

Samples from December through February suggest that virus variants are increasing in prominence in New Jersey, CDI testing found. Experts believe it's "highly likely" that the variants are going undetected throughout New Jersey.

"We want to make our technology available to everybody. We're in close contact and coordination with the Department of Health," Perlin said.

Atlantic Health System announced on Friday that it also has a way to test for key viral variants.

“Being able to detect variants is the next step in caring for our patients, while keeping our caregivers and facilities safe," said Dr. Lisa McFarlane, director of laboratory services with Atlantic Health System, which has a presence in 11 New Jersey counties.

In early March, researchers at Rutgers announced the creation of a test to detect COVID-19 variants. It can easily be tweaked to spot any new type of variant that's discovered in the future.

Perlin noted that COVID-19 vaccines are still broadly effective against preventing severe disease.

"We want to the vaccine to outpace the variants," Perlin said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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