NUTLEY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has been detected in New Jersey, and one lab is doing its part to stay ahead of the curve and help patients.

Working within inches of infectious samples, scientists at a lab in Nutley have been peering into the pandemic in a way most of us can’t even fathom.

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When asked by CBS2’s Jessica Layton what still scares her the most about COVID-19, lab worker Kaelee Composto said, “There still is potential for infection and there still are people getting sick and who are dying and some people tend to forget that.”

That’s something that’s never lost on those at Hackensack Meridian Health‘s Center for Discovery and Innovation, as COVID positive tests from hospitalized patients from across the state come in every day.

“Up until last week before we came up with a test to be able to detect that, we really had no way of directly knowing in a small period of time, is this patient infected with the delta variant? Now we do,” lab manager Jose Mediavilla said.

COVID VACCINE

Mediavilla said the scientists at the lab have just come up with a new rapid analysis test that looks specifically for the dangerous Delta variant that devastated India, and is now in 49 U.S. states.

“Knowing what we’re dealing with is important for the patient. Secondarily, this tells us what’s circulating in the region,” said Dr. David Perlin, the lab’s chief scientific officer.

Perlin said it’s a game changer in local diagnostics, as the virus continues to evolve.

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“Having this type of technology we can stay, what I like to call, one step behind the virus. At this point, this virus just does not quit and we shouldn’t believe that it will,” Perlin said.

The majority of the COVID samples coming into the lab still contain the Alpha variant. That’s the variant that was first detected in the UK. But more and more, Delta is on the rise.

“Two weeks ago, the prevalence in New Jersey was about 5% of all the samples tested. A week later, it was 15%. By the time we get done screening these swabs we are looking at here, 20-25%,” Mediavilla said.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Eventually, they believe it will become the dominant strain, which could cause a resurgence of COVID in the fall.

“As long as there’s enough people who are vulnerable, the virus is gonna find them,” research scientist Barry Kreiswirth said.

The most vulnerable, of course, are the unvaccinated. So these men and women with a front row seat to the ever-changing strains say accept the gift that science gave us — and get the shot.

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CBS2’s Jessica Layton contributed to this report

CBSNewYork Team