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CDC refutes report of new highly contagious COVID-19 strain in US

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There is no highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus in the US despite reports that a new strain of the deadly bug was circulating here.

Officials said reports that suggested a new mutation were based on speculative statements made by Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, but are not accurate, the New York Times reported Saturday.

The rumor came from a meeting during which Birx discussed graphs that showed the sharp increase in the virus’ spread across the country. She theorized that a new, more transmissible variant originating in this country might explain the rapidly escalating number of cases, the way a highly-contagious new variant found in the UK did in Britain.

Her hypothesis made it into a weekly report sent to state governors, CNBC reported. “This acceleration suggests there may be a USA variant that has evolved here, in addition to the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50% more transmissible,” the report said.

CDC officials did not agree with her assessment and asked to remove it from the report, but were unsuccessful, the Times said. Following news reports about the potential variant, the agency issued a formal statement refuting the theory. “To date, neither researchers nor analysts at CDC have seen the emergence of a particular variant in the United States,” spokesman Jason McDonald said.

He noted that all viruses evolve and there are likely many variants around the globe evolving simultaneously. “However, it could take 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.”

Dr. Birx could not immediately be reached for comment.

The UK variant, which has driven a surge there that is overwhelming hospitals, has been found in multiple states, including New York. The CDC estimates that it accounts for less than 0.5 percent of cases in the country so far.

Dr. Deborah Birx speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing in November.
Dr. Deborah Birx speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing in November.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

A second variant has been in the United States for three months and also accounts for fewer than 0.5 percent of cases, so it is unlikely to be more contagious than other variants, a CDC official told the Times.

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