U.S. to Boost Surveillance of Virus Variants, CDC Head Says

The U.S. government, including the Pentagon, is stepping up surveillance of coronavirus variants to monitor their impact on Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“We are now scaling up both our surveillance of these and our study of these,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on “Fox News Sunday.” The agency is working with others, including the Defense Department and the Food and Drug Administration, to monitor the variants, she said.

Vivek Murthy, President Joe Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, said achieving broad immunity against the coronavirus by the start of the school year in September is “an ambitious goal,” and that new strains of the disease will require continued masking, social distancing and better government tracking.

“It is going to take a lot of work,” Murthy said on ABC’s “This Week.” Many schools don’t have resources to reopen just now, he said. “I do think we can get on a path toward opening schools more safely.”

In Chicago, teachers due to return to the classroom were voting this weekend on a resolution to work only remotely, setting the stage for a possible strike in the third-largest U.S. school district.

Murthy said reopening schools will also require that the numbers of Covid cases fall, which in turn depends on focusing on the Biden’s administration’s goal of 100 million vaccines delivered in the first 100 days in the office.

“That is a floor, it is not a ceiling,” he said. “It is also a goal that reflects the realities of what we face.”

Murthy said variant strains of the virus that are starting to show up “are likely to be more transmissible.”

“We still need more data” on deaths, he said, adding the larger lesson is that “the virus is basically telling us it is going to continue to change and we got to be ready for it.”

That plan requires better genomic surveillance, he said, and doubling down on masking and social distancing.

South African Variant

“We’ve got to invest a lot more in testing and in contact tracing,” Murthy said. “We are in a race against these variants, the virus is going to change, and it is up to us to adapt and make sure that we are staying ahead.”

Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, renewed concern about a mutant circulating in South Africa, saying it “looks like it does diminish more so the efficacy of the vaccine.”

“But we’re still within that cushion level of the vaccines being efficacious against these mutants,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Having said that, we’ll look at this and follow this very, very carefully because these things do evolve.”

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