Omicron Detection and Investigation: Field Staff Share Key Insights with Peers


Peer-to-peer learning sessions provide a valuable outlet across the CDC Foundation for information sharing and support. Often they focus on a topic area of particular interest to a relatively small cohort. That was not the case on January 14, when two field employees shared their insights on a very hot topic: the Omicron variant, and how the first variant cluster outbreak in the United States was identified and investigated. 

Health data experts Jennifer Holmes, MSBS, and Bryan Tegomoh, MD, MPH, presented at a webinar that was open to a wide audience of CDC Foundation staff and partners working on the COVID-19 emergency response. More than 400 people tuned in to the 90-minute webinar to hear from their colleagues and participate in a Q&A. What they got was a master class in genomics that was timely, informative, engaging and user-friendly. 

Holmes, a bioinformatician stationed with the Ohio Department of Health, kicked things off with a broad overview of the COVID-19 variant landscape, including the differences between variants of concern (VOCs) and variants of interest (VOIs), the ABCs of genomic sequencing, software tools currently being used to detect variants and new tools on the horizon. Holmes made the complex information more relatable with pop culture references to movies like Contagion—a 2011 pandemic drama that resonates quite differently in the COVID-19 era. 

Holmes’ scene-setter was followed by a deep dive into an outbreak investigation from Bryan Tegomoh, a medical epidemiologist who co-authored a recent report about an Omicron cluster in Nebraska that was featured in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He shared insights on using genomics to understand the epidemiology of infectious diseases and guide public health action. And he outlined the basic steps used to identify, investigate, mitigate and report an outbreak: 

1. Verify the diagnosis and confirm the outbreak

2. Define a case and conduct case finding

3. Descriptive epidemiology

4. Take immediate control measures

5. Formulate and test hypothesis

6. Plan and execute additional studies

7. Implement and evaluate control measures (Tegomoh highlighted that this is an important step that may be done early in the investigation—based on hypotheses—to prevent further exposures and protect at-risk populations)

8. Communicate findings (e.g. to local health department, in MMWR, etc.) 

Tegomoh stressed the importance of building local genomic surveillance programs around the country and the world, similar to the one used by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, “to give us better insights about transmission dynamics and what to look for in the future.”

For more information on the webinar, contact: Hannah Buchdahl at

This blog post is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $68,939,536 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS or the U.S. Government. 


Headshot of Hannah Buchdahl
Hannah Buchdahl is a COVID-19 Corps senior communications officer for the CDC Foundation.