CZI, CZ Biohub, and The State Of California join forces to track COVID-19 transmission

Today, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub (CZ Biohub), in partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), announced that it will provide free whole genome sequencing and analysis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to all California Departments of Public Health (DPH) and California local health jurisdictions through a newly-launched effort called the California COVID Tracker. By rapidly tracing how and where the virus is changing and spreading across the state, the California COVID Tracker aims to provide actionable viral genomic data to local public health jurisdictions and help ensure transmission remains low while we await a vaccine.

Under this new partnership, any California DPH may ship positive COVID-19 samples to the CZ Biohub, which will provide sequencing, analysis, and interpretation support, with an emphasis on making data actionable for public health surveillance and response. By tracing the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 virus mutations, genomic epidemiology can offer insights such as estimating the number of undetected cases in a community, identifying clusters of linked transmission events, and detecting new introductions of SARS-CoV-2 into a given area or community.

Connected in this way to local public health labs and county public health departments, this type of actionable genomic epidemiology program is not currently available anywhere else in the United States. The CZ Biohub will also offer training in bioinformatics and data interpretation to public health partners throughout the state, including those interested in building or augmenting sequencing and analytic capacity within their own departments. The groups will also work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's newly-launched SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology and Surveillance (SPHERES) consortium.

Public health officials need accurate, timely information about how COVID-19 is spreading to make decisions that will help protect people. Using genome sequencing, researchers can create viral family trees to track how the virus is spreading to help inform policy decisions. We hope that broader sequencing coverage across California will empower local health jurisdictions to better understand transmission dynamics and the corresponding action needed in their communities."

Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, CZI co-founders and co-CEOs

As part of this effort, the CZ Biohub will deposit SARS-CoV-2 sequences into public repositories for COVID-19 genomics, including GISAID and NCBI. CZ Biohub and CZI will provide tools and analysis support to help California DPHs overlay epidemiological and demographic information onto this genomic data to better understand local SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

"Through the California COVID Tracker, researchers, epidemiologists, software engineers, and data scientists from CZI and CZ Biohub are working to provide critical SARS-CoV-2 genomic data to California public health officials and the broader scientific community so they can make smart decisions about public health actions like contact tracing and intervention strategies," said Joe DeRisi, PhD, Co-President of the CZ Biohub, who contributed to the identification of the SARS coronavirus in 2003. "These data become increasingly more powerful with broader participation. We invite interested public health officials and universities to partner with us in the fight against this unprecedented pandemic -- these efforts will go a long way to protect our state from future spikes as we continue to fight this pandemic."

The California COVID Tracker expands upon the ongoing partnership between CZI, the CZ Biohub, and UCSF, which has provided free COVID-19 testing to all 58 California Departments of Public Health. For more information on how to become involved in the California COVID Tracker, please visit covidtracker.czbiohub.org or email [email protected]

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