Reports of a highly contagious new variant in the United States released on Friday by several news outlets are based on speculative statements by Dr. Deborah Birx and are inaccurate according to several government officials.
The flawed report arose recently at a meeting at which Dr. Birx, a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, presented diagrams of the escalating cases in the country. She suggested to other members of the task force that a new, more transferable variant originating in the US could explain the surge, as did another variant in the UK.
Their hypothesis made it a weekly report sent to the state governors. “This fall / winter rise was almost twice as fast as the spring and summer rise. This acceleration suggests that there may be a US variant that has evolved here, on top of the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities and that is potentially 50% more transferable, ”the report said. "Aggressive attenuation must be used to match a more aggressive virus."
Distraught, C.D.C. tried to have the speculative statements removed, but were unsuccessful, according to three people familiar with the events.
CDC. Officials disagreed with her assessment and asked to have her removed, but according to a frustrated C.D.C. Official who speaks on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Dr. Birx could not be reached immediately for comment.
News of a possible new variant appeared on CNBC Friday afternoon and quickly spread to other branches. To media inquiries about the variant, the C.D.C. made a formal statement refuting the theory.
"Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring all emerging variants of the coronavirus, including the 5,700 samples collected in November and December," said Jason McDonald, an agency spokesman. “So far, neither researchers nor analysts at C.D.C. saw a particular variant emerge in the United States, ”he said.
Variants in circulation in the US include B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the UK and is now driving a surge and overwhelming hospitals. The variant was discovered in a handful of states, but the C.D.C. It is estimated to make up less than 0.5 percent of cases in the country so far.
Another variant that circulates in small amounts in the United States, known as B 1.346, contains a deletion that can make vaccines less effective. "But I didn't see anything about increased transmission," said Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona who discovered this variant.
This variant has been in the US for three months and also accounts for less than 0.5 percent of cases. Therefore, according to a C.D.C. unlikely to be more contagious than other variants. Scientist who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter.
All viruses evolve and the coronavirus is no different. "Based on the scientific understanding of viruses, it is very likely that many variants will develop simultaneously worldwide," said McDonald of the C.D.C. "However, it may take weeks or months to determine if there is a single variant of the virus that is causing Covid-19 to fuel the surge in the US, similar to the surge in the UK."
Carl Zimmer reported from New Haven and Noah Weiland from Washington D.C.