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White House testing czar: UK coronavirus variant 'likely' in US

White House testing czar: UK coronavirus variant 'likely' in US
© UPI Photo

Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir said Monday that a new, faster-spreading strain of coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom is "likely" already present in the U.S., though he cautioned that officials have no evidence of its presence yet.

In an interview with "Good Morning America," Giroir warned that authorities suspect that the new virus mutation has already made the jump from the U.K. to North American despite the U.S. and more than a dozen other countries implementing travel restrictions.

"We don't have proof that it's here, but we do suspect that it is likely here, given the global interconnectedness," Giroir said. "We have no evidence that it's here. It's certainly not widespread here, but we need to look and make sure it's not here."

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"And we still believe — don't have absolute proof — but we have very good evidence and a good belief that the vaccines will still be effective," Giroir added.

Giroir went on to say that while the new strain of COVID-19 is believed to spread at a faster rate, there is "no evidence that it is more serious" than the version that has been spreading in the U.S. for months.

His comments echoed those of former Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb, who told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the new strain of COVID-19 is "probably here in the United States" in a "reasonable" number of people.

"We don't sequence a lot of samples in this country, and a lot of that sequencing that does get done gets done in private labs and doesn't get aggregated into public databases. That needs to be fixed," Gottlieb said of testing issues that complicated U.S. efforts to track the new strain. "In the U.K., they're sequencing about 10 percent of all the samples. Here we're doing a fraction of 1 percent."

Officials in Canada revealed Saturday that they had detected two cases of the new COVID-19 strain, which appeared in a couple with no history of travel or known exposure to the virus.

The U.S. passed 19 million total confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, while more than 320,000 have died from the virus across the country.