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CDC: Florida Up To 147 Cases Of Coronavirus U.K. Variant, Most In Nation

A stronger, more infectious variant of the new coronavirus was found in the United Kingdom and has begun spreading in Central Florida.
A stronger, more infectious variant of the new coronavirus was found in the United Kingdom and has begun spreading in Florida.

The CDC doesn't give a county breakdown, but on Thursday the state said the most cases were in Broward and Miami-Dade.

Florida has reported 147 cases of the coronavirus variant, according to federal tally on Sunday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website listed 467 cases nationally, with Florida showing the most. California was second with 113.

The CDC doesn't give a county-by-county breakdown on its website, but on Thursday the state Department of Health provided a count of 92 cases, with the most in Broward, with 28, and Miami-Dade, with 23.

In the greater Tampa Bay area, seven were reported in Hillsborough, four in Pinellas and one in Pasco.

In the Orlando area, officials confirmed six cases in Seminole and two in Orange. The Orange cases were not county residents, officials said; one was visiting from Broward and the other was from Seminole County.

However, in a coronavirus briefing Thursday, Orange County Health Department Director Dr. Raúl Pino said this does not mean the variant has not reached the county.

“It is everywhere,” Pino said.

Pino said there is an effort to help officials keep track of the virus, particularly for the highly touristy area of Orange County.

“We are working with the CDC in detail tracing investigation for those individuals who may be suspected of coming from an area where they’ve had incident of those cases,” he said.

Scientists discovered the variant in the U.K. in September. It is known as B.1.1.7 and is considered more infectious and resilient than its original form.

The Department of Health says it is now examining about 200 samples of the COVID virus on average every week to look for mutations, roughly quadrupling the pace it had set during the course of the pandemic, according to information the agency provided to the Miami Herald on Wednesday.

Florida health officials first announced on New Year’s Day that a man with no travel history had acquired the U.K. strain, or B.1.1.7, in Martin County.

Researchers have examined about 500 samples of the virus starting in late December from patients throughout the state. As of Thursday, 92 cases of the strain were found.

Leading CDC scientist Dr. Luís Correia said in an interview with WMFE that the new variant is a mutation of COVID-19. He said it has further adapted to its environment, replicating stronger survival features, like creating faster and tighter “coupling” bonds with the human host cell, as well as becoming more resistant to human defenses.

“Every time the virus enters the human body, it makes a lot of copies of itself, thousands and thousands of times in each cell,” Correia said. “In this cell replication, sometimes there are errors, whenever these errors are good for the virus in terms of survival, making the virus stronger or more infective, or more resistant to human immunology defense, that mutation can become an adopted new variant with a place in our ecosystem. The virus is more efficient, so it occupies this space.”

To dispel rumors, Correia said he wanted to make clear that the variant is not any more lethal or dangerous than the original virus and that it is not resistant to the new vaccines against it.

“There is no evidence that this strain is more lethal, but it is more effective and spreads more easily, making it harder to avoid infection,” he said. “We have already two scientific papers published exactly about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. They’ve already been tested against the new strain and until now they are effective.”

Correia did say, however, that paper and cloth masks are no longer good enough to protect people against the spread. He said he recommends people wear N95 masks without valves or surgical masks.

The doctor said the main reasons to be concerned about the new strain is that it is more infectious, meaning it will soon likely become the dominant strain in the U.S. He said younger people, who were not at such a high risk with the original virus, are more at risk of catching the new variant.

“It can get more people, and the younger are getting more sick with this, that is the main reason we are so worried about it,” the doctor said, indicating he had to review this information into the CDC website two weeks ago. “We are talking about at least 25 states in the U.S. having those strains of the new genetic variant and also other eight territories. As Dr. Fauci said, probably in the next moths this strain is going to be the most prevalent in the U.S.”

Dr. Correia said the best way to fight this virus would be to vaccinate everybody, “but that takes time.” He said, in the meantime, the most important thing to do right now is to “stop the circulation of the virus,” by continuing to wash hands, sanitize, wear face coverings, and keep social distancing guidelines.

As of Thursday, when 92 were reported by the state, here is a county breakdown of B.1.1.7 cases:

Broward – 28

Miami-Dade – 23

Palm Beach – 9

Hillsborough – 7

Seminole – 6

Pinellas – 4

Osceola – 2

Lee – 2

Brevard – 1

Charlotte – 1

Collier – 1

Escambia – 1

Hendry – 1

Martin – 1

Pasco – 1

Polk – 1

Sumter – 1

Suwannee – 1

Volusia – 1

Information from WMFE and WLRN was used in this report.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.