Dr. Anthony Fauci on Thursday predicted that a new, more contagious COVID-19 strain that first appeared in the U.K. will spread across the U.S., but he added that “it does not appear to be more virulent.”
“We predicted it would be, when you have so much of it in the U.K., which then spread to other countries in Europe and Canada, it was inevitable that it would be here,” Fauci said on NBC News’ “Today.” “You’ll be hearing reports from other states and more cases in the state that is already reported. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of the way these viruses spread.”
The first case of the strain found in the U.S. was detected on Tuesday in a Colorado resident who had not traveled abroad. “Today we discovered Colorado’s first case of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, the same variant discovered in the UK,” Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis wrote on Twitter. “The health and safety of Coloradans is our top priority and we will monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely.”
On Wednesday, the first case of a more contagious strain of COVID-19 has been found in California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “Just an hour or so ago we were informed that this new variant, this new strain that we have identified obviously from the U.K. and some other parts of the globe, identified in Colorado yesterday has been identified here in the state of California, in southern California,” Newsom said.
Fauci said Thursday that the virus is indeed more contagious. “Our British colleagues have shown, clearly, that it is much more efficient in spreading from person to person,” Fauci said, adding that “the good news is that it does not appear to be more virulent, namely, making people more sick and leading to more death.”
Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who served on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, also said the new strain “does not seem to evade the protection that’s afforded by vaccines that are currently being used.”
Dr. Nelson Michael, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at the institute, told CNN this week that there is no indication that the inoculations will be ineffective. “It stands to reason that this mutation isn’t a threat, but you never know. We still have to be diligent and continue to look,” Michael told the network on Sunday.
Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research last week began studying the genetic sequences of the new strain, which was posted online by British researchers. The “analysis will allow us to gauge how much concern we should have. Other teams around the world are doing this analysis, too,” Michael told CNN.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, who serves as the World Health Organization’s lead on COVID-19, said Sunday that the new strain is crossing borders. “We understand that this variant has been identified also in Denmark, in the Netherlands, and there was one case in Australia and it didn’t spread further there,” Van Kerkhove told the BBC on Sunday.
Fauci warned that Americans need to keep making efforts to stem the spread. “The fact that you have a virus that spreads more efficiently is something that’s important and needs to be taken seriously,” he said. “This just underscores the need to continue to put our foot to the floor and the pedal, about making sure we do the public health measures that we talk about all the time. The wearing of masks, the physical distancing, the avoiding crowds in congregant settings,” Fauci said.