It then described the program as a “flexible, multimodal platform that consists of three complementary approaches of sample collection from arriving international travelers at U.S. airports, including voluntary nasal swabbing, aircraft wastewater, and airport wastewater sampling to enhance early detection of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and other pathogens, and fills gaps in global surveillance.”
What It Will Test
The other pathogens the company said it will test for include multiple influenza strains as well as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Neither it nor the CDC listed listed the others.
“The expansion of the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program to flu, RSV, and other pathogens is essential as we head into fall respiratory season. The TGS program, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic, acted as an early warning system to detect new and rare variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and will do the same for other respiratory viruses going forward,” said Dr. Cindy Friedman, chief of the CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, in the statement.
The travelers program was introduced in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to detect COVID-19 variants and other pathogens via a nasal swab and wastewater collection sampling.
It allowed for the “early detection of the SARS-CoV-2 variant BA.2.86 entering the United States within days of its global identification,” the CDC said, referring to a COVID-19 variant that was found over the summer of 2023. “As the infected traveler had originated travel in Japan, this finding also informed the public health community that the new variant had also spread to Asia.”
The CDC’s program has “enrolled” more than 360,000 air travelers since it was implemented in late 2021, the agency said, adding that it is both “voluntary and anonymous.” It covers flights from more than 135 countries around the world, officials said.
It doesn’t only just rely on travelers volunteering. The agency also collects wastewater samples to evaluate pathogens.
Other than Gingko Bioworks, XpresCheck—a company that runs spa operations at airports—will also partake in the program, according to the CDC.
“We have known that travelers are a very important population to consider for tracking new and emerging infections,” Dr. Friedman, with the CDC’s program, told CNN. “One sample from an aircraft coming from a geographic destination afar can give us information potentially about 200 to 300 people that were on that plane,” she added.
A CDC map shows the travelers program is being run at major airports in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, Boston, and Newark in New Jersey.
Officials say the latest expansion will launch at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Boston Logan International Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport.
According to data provided by the CDC, the rate of hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks since late summer. For the week ending Oct. 28, the hospitalization, death, and COVID-19 positivity rate have essentially remained steady, although emergency room visits have declined, the data shows.
In September, the agency said that for the fall and winter season, hospitalizations would rise for COVID-19, RSV, and influenza.
Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC signed off on three new updated COVID-19 booster vaccines, although federal data suggests that uptake is relatively slow. So far, only 7 percent of Americans have received the shot, according to the data, while polls suggest that more and more Americans are increasingly wary of the shots.
A poll from the the Annenberg Public Policy Center with the University of Pennsylvania found that about 63 percent of Americans think that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is safer than getting the virus itself—signaling a drop of 12 percentage points from April 2021 when 75 percent held that view.
That survey also found that Americans who view the shot as unsafe increased from 18 percent in August 2022 to 24 percent during last month’s poll.
Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who back using ivermectin—a drug that was often demonized by media outlets and even some federal health officials—to treat COVID-19 has risen from 10 percent in September 2021 to 26 percent last month, the survey found.
Earlier this year, as the federal government lifted its three-year-long public health emergency over COVID-19, the CDC also lifted its rule that required non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Before, any visitor to the United States had to receive the vaccine before getting on a flight to the United States and would have to be also tested for the virus beforehand.
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