Coronavirus: Could your DNA determine the severity of COVID-19?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the novel coronavirus has spread, the medical community has been stumped. Why are some people getting COVID-19 and ending up very sick and dying, while others carry the virus, and do not even know they have it? Could the answer be in our DNA?

Joyce Tung is vice president of research at Silicon Valley-based 23andMe, one of the nation's largest DNA research companies.

"Our primary goal is to try to understand whether there are genetic factors in humans that influence how severe the disease is for different people," said Tung.

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A week and a half ago, the company launched a COVID-19 survey. They already have 50,000 responses and want more.

"Obviously most people, fortunately, have not been diagnosed with COVID-19, and so we hope to open this up to even more people," said Tung. "Because really for genetics, you need a lot of data in order to make good discoveries."

23andMe currently has the DNA of more than 10 million customers and has published over 150 research papers on a huge range of different diseases.

"We're in a good position, again to try and make a discovery relatively quickly that we can share with the rest of the scientific community," said Tung.

The seven to ten-minute survey is only available to customers who have agreed to be part of the company's research. It asks about symptoms, underlying health conditions, and other risk factors.

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"We're really looking at severity as well, have they been treated? Have people been hospitalized?" said Tung.

While it is too soon to draw any conclusions, 23anMe says it may have findings to report in weeks, if not months.

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