Reports of a highly contagious new variant in the United States, published on Friday by multiple news outlets, are based on speculative statements made by Dr. Deborah Birx and are inaccurate, according to several government officials.
The erroneous report originated at a recent meeting where Dr. Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, presented graphs of the escalating cases in the country. She suggested to other members of the task force that a new, more transmissible variant originating in the U.S. might explain the surge, as another variant did in Britain.
Her hypothesis made it into a weekly report sent to state governors. “This fall/winter surge has been at nearly twice the rate of rise of cases as the spring and summer surges. 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 read. “Aggressive mitigation must be used to match a more aggressive virus.”
Dismayed, officials at the C.D.C. tried to have the speculative statements removed, but were unsuccessful, according to three people familiar with the events.
C.D.C. officials did not agree with her assessment and asked to remove it but were told no, according to one frustrated C.D.C. official, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Dr. Birx could not immediately be reached for comment.