- The Coronavirus Task Force of the White House shared a report with states that a possible “USA variant” could be responsible for the rise in the coronavirus.
- According to the report, the US variant was more transmissible than the original virus, similar to the strains reported in the UK and South Africa.
- However, the CDC told Business Insider that there is no evidence of a “USA variant” and that it could take months to determine if a single strain is causing an increase in certain cases.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force sent a report on Sunday warning that there may be a “United States variant” of the coronavirus. The variant could fuel the unprecedented number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the United States, according to media that received the document.
The report suggested that this US variant may be more transmissible than the original version of the virus that appeared in China, similar to the new strains identified in the UK (B.1.1.7) and South Africa (B.1.351).
However, there is still no scientific evidence that a more contagious version of the coronavirus originated or spread in the United States.
In a statement to Business Insider on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “To date, neither CDC researchers nor analysts have seen any particular variant emerge in the US, as did B emergence. 1.1 .7 in the United Kingdom or B.1.351 in South Africa. “
Human behavior has a major impact on transmission rates
A long line for medical exams and COVID-19 tests at the St. Johns Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles, California on July 29, 2020.
Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images
The task force’s report contained little information about how long the newly described U.S. strain might have been around and what mutations were in its genetic profile, according to CNBC.
Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC’s Closing Bell that the task force’s hypothesis about the existence of a US variant is based in part on the fact that the US and UK pandemic growth curves are similar.
– Meg Tirrell (@megtirrell) January 8, 2021
According to CNN, the task force report said, “This fall / winter increase was almost twice as fast as the spring and summer increase. This acceleration suggests that there may be a US variation here as well evolved to the British variant that is already spreading in our communities. “
In the face of the lack of evidence the task force provided, frustrated CDC officials attempted to remove statements about the suspected variant from the latest report, but they were unsuccessful, according to the New York Times.
In the UK, too, the variant is not the only reason for the steep rise in cases.
“Human behavior has a huge impact on transmission – probably much greater than any biological differences in SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, previously told Business Insider.
The variant reported in the UK has an elevated reproductive value (R0) – the average number of people a sick person will infect. The number is 1.5 instead of 1.1, the World Health Organization announced in December, which means that 100 people will infect an average of 150 more, not 110.
However, mitigation measures like social distancing and masking play a big role in the spread of the virus, regardless of its genetic mutations.
Continue reading: Young healthy people found a loophole to get the COVID vaccine without skipping the line
The US doesn’t sequence enough genomes to discover new variants
Few people wear masks when walking on the beach pier in Oceanside, California.
Mike Blake / Reuters
To monitor the many versions of the coronavirus circulating around the world, each separated by a handful of tiny changes in the genome, researchers genetically sequence samples of the virus and track the changes over time. British researchers identified B.1.1.7 in this way for the first time in mid-September.
But the US lags behind many countries when it comes to keeping an eye on new variations. US researchers have genetically sequenced fewer than 0.01% of their coronavirus cases: 2.5 in 1,000. In total, the U.S. has only sequenced 51,000 coronavirus samples, the CDC reported. In the UK, laboratories sequence 45 out of 1,000 cases.
Samantha Lee / Business Insider
This is probably why the US missed the introduction of the British strain and why it would be difficult to identify a new US variant. According to Charles Chiu, an infectious disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco, the US didn’t report its first case of B.1.1.7 until December 29th. That was at least three weeks after the tribe entered the country.
To date, more than 50 B.1.1.7 cases have been confirmed in six states, and all but one of those individuals had no travel history, suggesting that the burden has been quietly spreading for some time.
“It is very likely that it is in every state,” Chiu previously told Business Insider.
Scientists work in a laboratory testing COVID-19 samples for the New York City Health Department on April 23, 2020.
Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Even if a possible new USA variant was actually responsible for an increase in certain cases, it could take months to locate a connection.
“There is a strong possibility that there are variants in the US. However, it may take weeks or months to determine if there is a single variant of the virus causing COVID-19 that is fueling the surge in the US, similar to the increase in the US UK, “the CDC told Business Insider in its statement.
Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said in a tweet Thursday that “there are likely similar native varieties in the US too, it’s just that nobody is looking.”
“Like everything else in our national public health response, we looked at virus genome sequencing,” he added.
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