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Only On CBS2: Researchers Testing Samples For New UK COVID Variant At New Jersey Lab

NUTLEY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Researchers at one New Jersey lab are testing for the new U.K. COVID strain that's already in the U.S., and CBS2's Jessica Layton got a rare look inside.

Research technicians like Kaelea Composto are quite literally staring into a piece of the pandemic every day.

"Just to hold in your hand something that can yield such power over people is kind of, at least for me, still scary," she said.

She was testing droplets from vials under a microscope for the U.K. variant of coronavirus. CBS2 was given a rare look at the work being done at Hackensack Meridian Health's Center for Discovery and Innovation in Nutley.

"It's all about us finding different positive swabs, trying to detect different viral variants," research technician Marcus Cunningham said.


The technicians at the lab are processing up to 50 samples a day. Those samples are coming straight from patients who are hospitalized with COVID.

Scientists there have catalogued dozens of different mutations, but this highly contagious variant detected in five states, including New York, is drawing more attention than most.

"It seems to have become dominant so quickly," lab manager Jose Mediavilla said.

Mediavilla explains the mutation allows spike proteins to more easily latch onto healthy cells, making it much more transmissible. But what does that really mean for us?

"Maybe before one or two people at the gathering might come down with an infection ... Maybe now it's going to be three or four people," he said.

MORE: Mayor De Blasio Calls To Ban Travelers From UK To Slow Spread Of New, More Contagious COVID Variant

It's so problematic, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling on the federal government to ban travel from the U.K. to the U.S.

"we're literally inviting this new horrible variant in the door," de Blasio said Tuesday.

Chief scientific officer Dr. David Perlin says it's only a matter of time before his team sees it in a sample.

"We've made the assumption that it's here," he said.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

For now, Composto says all the testing, sequencing and long hours in this lab boil down to this: "Help us get to where we're able to manage this virus and people don't have to live with so much fear."

A hope we can all get behind.

Jessica Layton contributed to this report.


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