Dr. Anthony Fauci says it’s a “possibility” a new, mutated strain of the COVID-19 virus could be behind a sudden spike in cases across the U.S., which had dropped dramatically since April.
Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who served on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said the new rise in the U.S. is similar to what’s been occurring in the United Kingdom, where a new strain emerged last month.
“It could be — a possibility — that we have our own mutant that’s being more easily transmissible,” Fauci told The Washington Post on Monday. “We don’t know. We’re looking for it…If you look at the slope of our curve, which is very steep, it looks a bit like the curve in the UK.”
The White House Coronavirus Task Force last week “there may be a USA variant that has evolved here, in addition to the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities,” according to reports obtained by CNN. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it has found no evidence of that a new strain of the virus in in the U.S., while other health experts say the sudden spike in cases could be happening because of other causes.
“Based on scientific understanding of viruses, it is highly likely there are many variants evolving simultaneously across the globe,” a CDC spokesman said in a statement emailed to CNN.
“Additionally, there is a strong possibility there are variants in the United States; however, it could 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,” the spokesman added.
“Researchers have been monitoring U.S. strains since the pandemic began, including 5,700 samples collected in November and December. To date, neither researchers nor analysts at CDC have seen the emergence of a particular variant in the United States as has been seen with the emergence of B.1.1.7 in the United Kingdom or B.1.351 in South Africa.”
On Dec. 31, Fauci 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. “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 Jan. 5 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 Jan. 6, 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 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.”