WASHINGTON — The coronavirus might have mutated, making it easier to spread, according to the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“The data is showing there’s a single mutation that makes the virus be able to replicate better and maybe have high viral loads,” Fauci said in an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association on Thursday. “We don’t have a connection to whether an individual does worse with this or not; it just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible.”
All viruses naturally mutate, but Fauci added that researchers are currently in the stage of trying to confirm if the possible COVID-19 mutation is more transmissible. He said, "there’s a little dispute about it.”
Fauci referred to a study, published in the journal Cell Thursday, which states the new strain "has become the most prevalent form in the global pandemic."
However, the study, which was released by researchers affiliated with the Sheffield COVID-19 Genomics Group, added that there wasn't any evidence that the new strain of the virus was more severe or made people sicker.
The United States on Friday morning had more than 2.7 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University data.
Four U.S. states — Arizona, California, Florida and Texas — reported a combined 25,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday as the infection curve rose in 40 of the 50 states heading into the July Fourth holiday weekend.
The surge has been blamed in part on Americans not covering their faces or following other social distancing rules as states lifted their lockdowns over the past few weeks. Fauci warned during the interview that if people don't start complying, “we're going to be in some serious difficulty.”
"Right now, if you look at the number of cases, it's quite disturbing," Fauci said. "We're setting records, practically every day of new cases in the numbers that are reported. That clearly is not the right direction."
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.