Former Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday that the dreaded “U.K. variant” of the coronavirus is probably circulating in the U.S. but hasn’t been detected because Americans aren’t tracking mutations as closely as other nations.
Canada recently joined the list of countries that found the variant within its borders, indicating it is circulating in North America.
“It could be here,” Dr. Gottlieb told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Dr. Gottlieb said the British are sequencing a whopping 10% of virus samples.
“We’re not doing that, so we probably wouldn’t be detecting that,” he said, noting that the U.S. sequences only about a fraction of 1% of samples.
While alarming, scientists aren’t quite sure what to make of the U.K. variant and another one in South Africa that appear to be aggressive.
Estimates of contagion are based on modeling instead of experimental data, and the variants don’t appear to be more deadly. Experts also don’t think they will evade vaccines.
Still, countries are using a patchwork of travel restrictions or testing requirements to keep the variant from spreading within their borders.
Dr. Gottlieb said the good news is that newly reported cases within the U.S. seem to be plateauing after a rough stretch. The seven-day average of daily cases has drooped to about 190,000 instead of 216,000 a week ago, according to a New York Times tracker.
Ups and downs in hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag a few weeks behind case trends, however, so it could be a somber January.
“We have a grim month ahead of us,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “We have a very difficult month ahead of us.”
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