TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Atlantic Health System in New Jersey is among the first hospital groups in the region to rapidly screen for key COVID-19 variants.

That’s as new concerns emerge about variants targeting younger people.

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COVID VACCINE

“Cases are increasing nationally and we are seeing this occur predominantly in younger adults,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “We know that these increases are due in part to more highly transmissible variants.”

Brian Gragnolati is the president and CEO of Atlantic Health System, which runs Morristown and Overlook Medical Centers and Urgent Cares in North Jersey. The health system started offering rapid testing for the virus mutations. He says this is critical information.

“Because these mutations vary in terms of how transmittable they are, and how severe they are. So it gives the public health departments, opportunities to contact tracing and really get on top of areas where we do see these variants,” he said.

If a rapid test comes back positive, the lab conducts a second screening for the U.K., Brazilian and South African variants. It plans to develop tests for the California and New York variants.

“The data will help our vaccine makers understand where they, we are seeing these variants and then perhaps make the modifications they need to those vaccines,” Gragnolati said.

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CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

As COVID cases and hospitalizations rise in our area, health experts put much of the blame on these highly contagious variants.

“Total of 645 reports of CDC variants of concern, 627 of these variants are the U.K. variant, found in every county in our state,” said Judy Persichilli,  commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Health.

Once vaccines were introduced testing lagged a bit. Gragnolati reminds people the only way to stop the spread and hold off more variants is to get tested.

“Make no mistake, the answer to really trying to address this in a way that we get back to normal, starts with people wearing their masks, staying socially distant ,following the rules,” he said.

And get vaccinated. Eligibility opens to all in New Jersey April 19th.

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Meg Baker contributed to this report. 

CBSNewYork Team