LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)– As scientists learn more about the omicron variant, how exactly are these mutations found and tracked?

“It continuously reminds us that we need to continue to do our job with responding to the pandemic as a whole,” said Heather Blankenship with the Michigan Department of Health and Human services.

Heather Blankenship has been with the MDHHS for more than three years.

She oversees a sequencing lab, which takes a closer look at COVID-19 samples to examine the genetic data for variations.

Blankenship says that the the lab was seeing variants since the start of the pandemic.

The number of variants doesn’t worry researchers, but some of them evolve and become more contagious and more deadly.

“As the virus replicates, and goes person to person, it generates mutations as soon as it changes how the virus transmits, how the virus may cause infection, how it may impact diagnostics, vaccines, testing. That’s when we start to get concerned about these mutations,” Blankenship said.

So, how do labs find these in the first place?

It starts with the type of test you get.

“Either have a nasal swab or oral swab that then goes into a tube and sent to a lab for PCR based testing, then those samples could go forward and look for variants,” said Blankenship.

Blankenship says that samples from hospitals and clinics from around the state make their way to universities and state labs.

“It needs to have enough viral material in order to sequence it, then it goes through a multi-day process of prepping,” she said.

After prepping, researchers check the genetic code for major changes that would effect how how the virus acts.

The new omicron variant has been found in South Africa, Europe and now in the U.S.

So, what is different?

“It doesn’t change any of the public health response that we are already doing, such as masking up, getting vaccinated or getting your booster,” Blankenship said.