How genetic sequencing is helping solve the mystery of coronavirus’ spread through Colorado nursing homes

By July 11, 2020Uncategorized

The Ebel lab’s COVID-19 surveillance work was again featured in the Colorado Sun. The project, a collaboration with Nicole Ehrhart and CSU’s Healthy Aging Center, is beginning to reveal clues about how SARS-CoV-2 spreads within skilled nursing facilities across the state. From the article:

“The team is among the first in the state to attempt to track the spread of the coronavirus by conducting genomic sequencing — the painstaking process of reading the virus’ genetic code. By looking for slight mutations in the code, researchers can create something of a family tree, showing which cases are closely related and which are more distantly separated.

And, though they still have plenty of work to do, the researchers’ data — gathered from dozens of samples from infected workers at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — are showing a clear trend.”

Streets near Frasier Meadows, left, a campus of senior apartments and skilled nursing care in Boulder, are marked for the safety of older residents in the neighborhood. The doors at the complex are closed to visitors because of fears about the coronavirus. During a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, three cases of the illness were confirmed among residents, and eight cases were confirmed or suspected among staff. No deaths were reported at the facility. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)


“Nicole Sexton, a postdoctoral fellow in Ebel’s lab, did much of the tedious work. Overall, she said, there wasn’t much variation between any of the samples. That’s to be expected because coronaviruses contain proofreading mechanisms to limit the natural mutations that occur as the virus replicates.

But what little variation there was showed a distinct pattern.

‘What we saw is within facilities a lot of the same sequence, whereas within different facilities, they had a different sequence,” she said. “It does look like, with the data we have so far, that they really are clustering within the same facility.'”

With thanks to Colorado Sun reporter John Ingold!