White House Covid task force warns of possible further spread of ‘American variant’

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The White House Coronavirus Task Force has said there may be a new variant of the virus that has evolved in the United States that is helping the spread, according to a document obtained by NBC News.
The new variant, in addition to the UK variant, is already spreading in communities and may be 50% more transmissible, according to the report released to States on January 3.

The task force said the recent spike in cases was nearly double the rate seen in the spring and summer, according to the report. The United States records at least 228,400 new cases of Covid-19 and at least 2,760 virus-related deaths every day, based on seven-day average calculated by CNBC using data from the University Johns Hopkins. The United States reported its deadliest day on Thursday with more than 4,000 dead.

“This acceleration suggests that there might be an American variant that evolved here, in addition to the British variant which is already spreading in our communities and could be 50% more transmissible,” the report says. “Aggressive attenuation must be used to match a more aggressive virus; without a consistent implementation of an effective face mask (two or three layers and well-fitting) and strict social distancing, outbreaks could quickly escalate as these variants spread and become predominant.

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately return CNBC’s requests for comment.

Few details were provided on the new American strain in the report, including how long it has been around. In recent weeks, the United States has stepped up its genomic sequences to try to detect other strains.

Public health officials were already concerned about the arrival of a new strain of the virus found in the UK, known as B.1.1.7.

The CDC has identified at least 52 cases of Covid-19 with the B.1.1.7 mutation in the United States, according to data published on the agency’s website last updated on Thursday. However, the CDC warns that their number “does not represent the total number of cases of the B.1.1.7 lineage that may circulate in the United States” and may not match the numbers reported by local officials.

So far, the CDC only shows California, Florida, New York, Colorado, and Georgia with B.1.1.7 variant cases, but other states like Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Texas announced Thursday the arrival of the strain in their states.

Michael Osterholm, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, said on Tuesday that the United States would likely see more new variants of the virus emerge.

Osterholm, epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in an interview with CNBC that the strain discovered in the UK is “of very great concern”.

“And this is the first of what will likely be a number of these strains emerging as we are at this stage of the pandemic,” he added.

This is a developing story. Please come back for updates.

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