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Nebraska DHHS extends partnership with Creighton University and CHI Health to continue variant testing

Oct 13, 2021
5 min Read
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Creighton University and its clinical partner, CHI Health, will continue playing a crucial role in detecting COVID-19 known and unknown variants for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which has extended its testing partnership through June 2022.

Since April, the University has served as one of three sites in Nebraska identifying variants of the virus to help with the state’s COVID-19 response. Positive samples from CHI Health’s testing sites were examined at Creighton’s labs through a state-of-the-art sequencer that can identify known and unknown variants of the COVID-19 virus. Approximately 960 samples were sequenced between early April and late May. The renewed contract with DHHS will allow Creighton to sequence 96 or more samples per week.

Michael Belshan, PhD, a virologist and professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at Creighton’s School of Medicine, has been working closely with Drs. Stephen Cavalieri, technical director of Microbiology at CHI Health, and Joseph Knezetic, technical director of the Molecular Lab. Together, they provide positive COVID-19 specimens from the CHI Health Laboratory at Creighton University Medical Center for further analysis.

“This sequencing is crucial in the fight against COVID-19 and will help us understand the evolution and variation of the virus throughout the entirety of the outbreak,” said Belshan, one of the few medical virologists in Nebraska. “While the Delta variant has made up the majority of variant cases, additional testing allows the state to perform continued surveillance to detect any new variant strains or outbreaks.”

Last year, the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in Nebraska happened in November, according to Belshan. As cold and flu season approaches, Maureen Tierney, MD, assistant dean for Clinical Research and Public Health, urges the public to remain vigilant against both COVID-19 and influenza through vaccination, mask wearing and social distancing.

“COVID-19 vaccines are very efficacious at preventing serious disease, hospitalization, complications and even death from the coronavirus and its highly transmissible variant strains,” Tierney said. “Preventing influenza through vaccination is also very important. Since more people are back at work and interacting, there will be more influenza this year than last. The CDC and DHHS indicate that COVID-19 and influenza shots may be administered at the same time.”

Tierney and Renuga Vivekanandan, MD, CHI Health chief of Infectious Disease, will continue providing consultative expertise to the Epidemiology team at Nebraska DHHS.