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U.K. Coronavirus Variant Cases Double In Florida Over Last Week

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Florida is doing more genomic sequencing of random samples of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. This sequencing determines what variant the virus contains in a swab.

The variants, commonly known by country of origin, have been found to be more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. The more prevalent B.1.1.7 variant spreads more easily and might be more deadly.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of coronavirus variant cases in Florida has more than doubled since last week.

Florida, which has the most number of variant cases, had reported 1,075 of the cases through Thursday. Sunday's report added another 1,255 cases, bringing the total to 2,330.

The variants, commonly known by their country of origin, have been found to be more transmissible than the original strain of the virus.

The more prevalent B.1.1.7 variant was first seen in the United Kingdom, spreads more easily and might be more deadly.

The P.1 variant was first seen in Brazil, and the B.1.351 variant was first seen in South Africa.

There have been 10,985 known cases involving coronavirus variants across the United States, and almost half of those appeared in just the last two weeks despite months of coronavirus decline around the country.

“Florida represents 6.5% of the entire population of the United States but after CDC released their update on the variants last night, we represent 21.5% of all cases of the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant nationwide. We represent almost 15% of the cases of the variant P.1 (Brazil) nationwide, and almost 12% of the B.1.351 (South Africa),” said Dr. Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida.

Health experts predicted the U.K. variant would be the most common strain in Florida by March. That didn’t happen, at least according to coronavirus numbers reported by the Florida Department of Health.

But Salemi says at the rate new coronavirus variants are being detected in Florida, it could be the case in the next month or two.

“If we don't curve it and get those mitigation strategies back in place, (masking and social distancing), bring these case counts down, you're going to start to see these variant numbers start to increase."

The state previously told Health News Florida in an email that “By leading in sequencing, the department is actively looking for the variant in Florida, which is why more cases are being discovered in Florida.”

But it’s not that the state is doing more testing, Salemi said. Testing numbers have stayed about the same.

Florida is doing more genomic sequencing of random samples of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. This sequencing determines what variant the virus contains in a swab.

Salemi said that because these are random samples variant cases are likely being underreported.

It’s a race against time get the population to herd immunity, which would be about 70% or more people inoculated. Vaccination not only reduces the number of cases, but also opportunities for the virus to mutate.

Despite a robust vaccine rollout, there are still 1.3 million seniors in Florida who are not yet vaccinated, and another million who are not fully vaccinated.

Add to that millions more who aren't eligible for vaccines yet, and you still have a level of community spread that allows the virus to mutate more easily.

Salemi said the more a virus replicates, the more likely it is to mutate.

“You could have another variant that has an increased likelihood of being more virulent, increased likelihood of severe illness, or that is better at evading our vaccines" he said. "That's my big concern."

Salemi said a bump in variant cases will likely be seen in the next few weeks as spring breakers return home.

“They are taking it back to their communities," he said. "Who knows how many vulnerable people who are unvaccinated that they'll be taking it back to.”

Salemi said he’s not trying to sound an alarm, but “we’ve been here before” in terms of a low number of cases right before a surge that led to a lot of hospitalizations and deaths.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7