White House task force warns some Covid-19 strains ‘may have evolved into a more transmissible virus’

The White House coronavirus task force again suggested the existence of “more transmissible” strains of Covid-19 and a “much more rapid” spread of the virus in its weekly reports to states, stressing the importance of “aggressive mitigation.”

“This fall/winter surge has been at nearly twice the rate of rise of cases as the spring and summer surges. This acceleration and the epidemiologic data suggest the possibility that some strains of the US COVID-19 virus may have evolved into a more transmissible virus,” reports sent to states dated January 10 and obtained by CNN said.

The report continued, “Given that possibility, and the presence of the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50% more transmissible, we must be ready for and mitigate a much more rapid transmission.”

Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shot down an item included in the January 3 task force state reports that suggested there was a homegrown “USA variant” of coronavirus, a misperception that began on a call with governors, an administration official told CNN.

But the official made it very clear US health officials have not determined that a US variant of the virus exists. There has been discussion about whether US health officials should investigate whether such a variant exists and make that identification but, so far, the official cautioned no such identification has occurred.

After the holiday season and unstable data reporting, the reports said that the US is now seeing “clear continuation of the pre-holiday high rate of spread as measured by rising test positivity, increased cases, increased hospitalization rates, and rising fatalities.”

There is “full resurgence” of viral spread in “nearly all metro areas,” the reports said, calling for “aggressive action.” The task force outlined measures including the use of masks that are “two or three ply and well-fitting,” “strict physical distancing” and more proactive testing of young adults.

This week’s reports raised concerns about “significant, continued deterioration from California across the Sunbelt and up into the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast” — essentially, the entire continental US.

And as the nation lags in administering vaccinations, the task force emphasized the need to “put (vaccines) in arms now,” noting that “active and aggressive immunization in the face of this surge would save lives.”

Rhode Island is the state with the most new cases per 100,000 population this week, followed by Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Utah, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Arkansas and North Carolina in the top 10.

Oklahoma has the highest test positivity rate this week, over 25.1%, followed by Utah, Nevada, Virginia, Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Texas, all of which have test positivity rates between 20.1% and 25.0%.

Arizona has the highest number of admissions per 100 available inpatient hospital beds, followed by Arkansas, Maryland, Georgia, Oklahoma, California, South Carolina, Kentucky, District of Columbia, and Alabama.

And Rhode Island ranks highest in new deaths per 100,000 population, followed by Rhode Island, Arizona, West Virginia, Tennessee, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Kansas, Connecticut and Michigan.