BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Scientists at the University at Buffalo have been studying COVID-19 specimens collected from various Erie County residents.

Five of the nearly 1,000 samples contained “California” variants. The Erie County Department of Health says the samples with “California” variants were collected in January.

“Since last spring, our team with UB’s Genomics and Bioinformatics Core has been focused on monitoring how this virus is evolving in Western New York through genome sequencing, part of the worldwide research network that is building a map of SARS-CoV-2 mutations in real-time. When combined with public health surveillance and contact tracing, the mapping that we do provides context for public health officials as they work to control this virus, for clinicians treating patients, and for our understanding of the virus.”

Jennifer A. Surtees, Ph.D., co-director of the Genome, Environment and Microbiome Center of Excellence and associate professor of biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB

The “California” variant was named for the state where it was first identified, in July 2020.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says “genetic sequencing can be like putting together a puzzle when you do not know the final picture, and can’t be sure you have all the right pieces.”

“We are incredibly fortunate to have the UB Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences with its highly specialized equipment and accomplished research team, here in Erie County,” Dr. Burstein says. “Their enthusiasm and commitment to this disease surveillance project was evident right away.”