CDC Says 10% Of COVID Swabs Sent to Genome Lab, Raising Privacy Questions

If you took a COVID-19 PCR test, there's a chance your swab may have been sent to scientists around the globe for genomic sequencing analysis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

In a tweet, the CDC said five to 10 percent of COVID PCR tests are sent to labs for mapping "genomic sequencing." Genomic sequencing is a process used to analyze the genetic makeup of viruses. However, the announcement made by the CDC has sparked human DNA privacy questions.

"Its' [PCR tests] being used by scientists all around the world to track the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants," the CDC said in the video.

People took to Twitter Wednesday questioning the CDC's motives, alleging that people's DNA is being taken without consent.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) wrote on Twitter, "Did the @CDCgov get permission from people to take their DNA???"

Another person alleged that conspiracy theories surrounding government DNA harvesting are true.

"OMG they're admitting they stole your DNA using the nose swabs & it's now being used in labs to study genome sequencing," @USRising1776 wrote on Twitter. "Yet another "conspiracy theory" that was 1000% true. Class-action lawsuit there for the taking of labs using your genes without your consent or compensation."

However, people are misunderstanding, says professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard Albert Ascherio. In this case, scientists are analyzing the sequencing of the COVID-19 virus for variants like Delta and Omicron. Sequences from collected tests can be compared to help scientists track the spread of a virus, how it is changing, and how those changes may affect public health.

Ascherio says the PCR tests used for genomic sequencing help distinguish common variants of the virus, not human DNA.

"The PCR tests generally do not sequence the full genome, but only selected segments/genes that are more relevant to distinguish the most common variants," Ascherio told Newsweek. "Full sequencing is however possible and it is done for research purposes to identify the relation between different variants, the appearance of new variants."

Although there may be the chance for human DNA to get sequenced, Ascherio says it's unlikely.

"There is no need to test human DNA, but of course, it will be on the swab so it could be tested, which is probably what people may worry about if they are in [a] conspiracy mood," Ascherio said.

Law professor and former Chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter says he doesn't see a problem with the genomic sequencing of the virus because human DNA isn't being collected. If the CDC were to track how variants from each person's DNA, then there would be privacy issues.

"They take the positive test and they want to look at the strains to see what we have," Painter told Newsweek. "And it's just the DNA of the virus. What privacy interest do I have in the DNA of a virus? Anything that they can do to study the DNA of the virus to help solve this pandemic, they should be doing."

PCR test
In a tweet, the CDC said five to 10 percent of COVID PCR tests are sent to labs for mapping "genomic sequencing." Getty Images