(LEX 18) — Just hours after Gov. Andy Beshear relayed an ominous report from the White House that warned of a possible new U.S. COVID-19 variant "that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50% more transmissible," the New York Times revealed that the report was based on speculative statements by Dr. Deborah Birx.
Dr. Birx, a White House Coronavirus Task Force member, suggested in a task force meeting that a new variant could help explain the recent surge in the country, according to the New York Times.
The Times reported that the CDC disputed her assessment and tried to remove the language from a weekly report to governors, but that effort failed.
The CDC has, however, confirmed that variants circulating the globe have been found in the United States. So far, more than 60 B.1.1.7 lineage cases have been confirmed in the country.
"It's not surprising that there's mutations," said Dr. Kathleen Winter, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Kentucky. "This is what viruses do."
The CDC and health officials around the world have said that foreign variants in South Africa and the United Kingdom appear to spread easier and quicker than the original COVID-19 strain, but there is no evidence that the variants have caused more severe illness or put people at a greater risk of death.
Dr. Winter explained that more data needs to be collected to determine the reason for the more rapid transmission.
"The leading thought is that it's likely that the variants are able to attach to the cells more effectively," she said. "Therefore, they can invade your cells more easily."
One of many unanswered questions is whether the variants can change the effectiveness of the available COVID-19 vaccines. There is currently no evidence suggesting this is occuring, according to the CDC.