5 cases of COVID-19 variant reported in SWFL

Reporter: Erika Jackson Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin

New data from the Centers for Disease Control shows Florida and California have reported the most known cases in the United States of a mutated and likely more contagious strain of the coronavirus.

A CDC map shows that as of Thursday, Florida had 92 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant that emerged in Britain in September.

In Southwest Florida, Lee County has reported two known cases of the B.1.1.7 variant. Collier, Charlotte and Hendry counties each have reported one known case.

Many experts say it’s now more important than ever that you get the vaccine, something people like Alan and Rosalinde Bratter of Port Charlotte have been trying to do.

“I’m up way before 6 a.m., and I sign on; hopefully, I’m in the queue,” Alan said.

They dial every number and search every website hoping to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Fully booked, fully booked, fully booked. Everything is fully booked.”

If the virus isn’t enough of a reason to get the vaccine, a potentially more contagious variant has made its way to Southwest Florida. There are only a handful of cases reported so far, but more will pop up, putting more of a strain on our health care system.

“That makes it even more stressful to know that Charlotte County has this variant that’s going to be so much more contagious,” Rosalinde said.

“Actually the vaccines that we’re using are still effective. However, given that as a fact now, we have to be concerned looking forward,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Fauci knows now the race is on to outpace new variants. “And the best way to do that is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you possibly can.”

Especially for seniors like the Bratters and people with underlying conditions.

Leaders in Punta Gorda and Charlotte County, along with Rep. Greg Steube, wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis, asking for more vaccines for our seniors to provide them more protection.

“Although life may not be back to normal, maybe we will have a resemblance of normalcy,” Rosalinde said.

When that normalcy will get here is anyone’s guess.

Verified variant cases doubled in Florida from 46 last week to 92 this week. The CDC cautions that the numbers are only known cases and that there may be unknown cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the state.

Broward County has recorded the most in Florida with 28, followed by 23 in Miami-Dade County and nine in Palm Beach County.

The U.S. as a whole has reported 315 total known cases of the B.1.1.7 variant.

Health officials have said that early data suggest that the variant may be more contagious than other variants of the virus, but that the current COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be effective against it.

While the UK strain can spread more easily, the CDC found that patients don’t develop more severe symptoms or have a higher risk of death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

How many variants of the coronavirus are there?

There are many circulating around the world, but health experts are primarily concerned with the emergence of three.

As a virus infects people, it can mutate as it makes copies of itself. Some mutations can be harmful to a virus, causing it to die out. Others can offer an advantage and help it spread.

“Not every mutation is created equal,” said Dr. Mary Petrone, who studies infectious diseases at Yale University. “The virus is going to get lucky now and again.”

Monitoring variants is important because of the possibility that they could make vaccines and treatments less effective, or change the way they infect people.

A mutation early in the pandemic fueled the spread of the virus around the world, but there had been no notable changes since — until recently, said Ohio State University biologist Daniel Jones.

One of the three main variants experts are watching was discovered in the United Kingdom late last year and has been detected in dozens of countries since. Health officials initially said it didn’t seem to cause worse disease, but some newer information suggests it might — that remains unknown at the moment. It does appear to spread more easily, which could lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

The variant might become dominant in the U.S. by March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other variants first detected in South Africa and in Brazil also appear more contagious, experts say.

Data so far suggests current vaccines should still protect against these variants, though there’s some concern their effectiveness may be slightly diminished. There is some evidence that some antibody treatments may be less effective against certain variants.

There are ways to adjust vaccines and treatments to maintain their effectiveness, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert.

The emergence of variants is linked to ongoing surges since infections give viruses the chance to mutate and spread. It’s another reason experts stress the importance of mask wearing and social distancing.

– The Associated Press

Dealing with a mutating virus

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