CDC refutes reports of new highly contagious COVID-19 strain in US after Dr. Birx triggered false alarm


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Government officials pushed back on recent reports about a new and highly contagious strain of the coronavirus in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a formal statement refuting reports that circulated after comments by Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. A theory posited by Birx during a recent meeting sparked reports from multiple news outlets and a weekly report sent to state governors, according to The New York Times.

“This fall/winter surge has been at nearly twice the rate of rise of cases as the spring and summer surges. This acceleration suggests there may be a USA variant that has evolved here, in addition to the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50% more transmissible,” the weekly report read.

“Aggressive mitigation must be used to match a more aggressive virus,” it added, after Birx had used graphs at the meeting to explain the possible reasons for a sudden surge in coronavirus cases.

(Image: YouTube screenshot)

CDC officials reportedly tried to remove the speculation by Birx but were not successful and on Friday, several media outlets began to report on the possible new variant. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had already warned the day before of another statewide shutdown if the new U.K. variant were to spread.

“In the U.K., it overtook everything in three weeks,” Cuomo said. “If the U.K. spread catches on in New York, hospitalization rate goes up, the hospital staff is sick, then we have a real problem and we’re at shutdown again.”

Former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, told CNBC on Friday that the new strain identified by the White House task force may seem to be acting like the U.K strain but isn’t, adding, “if it was we’d recognize that because we’re looking for it.”

“Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring all emerging variants of the coronavirus, including in 5,700 samples collected in November and December,” Jason McDonald, a spokesman the CDC said in a statement. “To date, neither researchers nor analysts at C.D.C. have seen the emergence of a particular variant in the United States.”

“Based on scientific understanding of viruses, it is highly likely there are many variants evolving simultaneously across the globe,” McDonald said. “However, it could take weeks or months to identify if there is a single variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 fueling the surge in the United States similar to the surge in the United Kingdom.”

According to The New York Times:

Among the variants circulating in the U.S. are B.1.1.7, first identified in Britain and now driving a surge and overwhelming hospitals there. The variant has been spotted in a handful of states, but the C.D.C. estimates that it accounts for less than 0.5 percent of cases in the country so far.

Another variant circulating at low levels in the U.S., known as B 1.346, contains a deletion that is also present in B.1.1.7.

 

That variant, which has been in the U.S. for three months, accounts for less than 0.5 percent of cases, so it is unlikely to be more contagious than other strains, an unnamed CDC scientist told The Times. Another strain,  known as B 1.346, has also been detected in the U.S. in low levels.

“But I have seen nothing on increased transmission,” Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, said.

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Frieda Powers

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