The Problem with Stories About Dangerous Coronavirus Mutations

May 6, 2020

(The Atlantic) – As if the pandemic weren’t bad enough, on April 30, a team led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory released a paper that purportedly described “the emergence of a more transmissible form” of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. This new form, the team wrote, “began spreading in Europe in early February.” Whenever it appeared in a new place, including the U.S., it rapidly rose to dominance. Its success, the team suggested, is likely due to a single mutation, which is now “of urgent concern.” The paper has not yet been formally published or reviewed by other scientists. But on May 5, the Los Angeles Times wrote about it, claiming that “a now-dominant strain of the coronavirus could be more contagious than [the] original.” That story quickly went … well … viral. But “the conclusions are overblown,” says Lisa Gralinski of the University of North Carolina, who is one of the few scientists in the world who specializes in coronaviruses.