BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Researchers in Maryland are tracking COVID variants in an effort to stop their spread.

When someone receives a positive COVID test, the only information that provides health officials is that the person is infected with the virus.

The only way to find out more is through a specific process of genome sequencing.

“It’s very important to understand if variants are emerging in a population,” Dr. Jacques Ravel, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said.

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Dr. Ravel said understanding what kind of virus a person has could change the way officials implement public health protocols and whether or not the vaccines protect against variant forms.

“We want to understand the penetration, if you want, of the virus in the population of those variants and if they become more prevalent,” Dr. Ravel said. “It’s an indication that they might be more transmissible, for example.”

Scientists at the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins and the State Department of Health are testing 10% of all positive COVID cases. They’re looking for some of the well-known variant strains.

Dr. Ravel said through genome sequencing, they’ve now found that between 20-25% of all positive cases in Maryland are linked to the UK variant.

Tim Nieuwenhuis is a Ph.D. student in human genetics at John Hopkins.

“If you can see consistent mutations through different viral strains, you can trace back where the virus is traveling,” he said.

There are lab studies indicating that some vaccines are protective against some variants, but less protective against others.

Researchers said a lot of their data is preliminary.

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Rachel Menitoff