New COVID-19 virus strain in Florida: What you need to know 

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida now has the highly contagious coronavirus variant first found in the U.K. 

The confirmed case out of Martin County came just hours after the state broke a record with more than 17,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in a single day.

8 On Your Side is digging into how this development will impact the pandemic, the vaccine, and your family.

On the final day of 2020, as Florida shattered its daily record of new coronavirus cases, there was an ominous tweet from the Florida Department of Health. The department confirming the fast-spreading virus variant in Martin County.

Just as in Colorado and California before, the patient was a young man with no history of travel.

The question now: Could the new year bring even darker days?

To understand the U.K. variant, we went to Dr. John Greene, the chief of Infectious Diseases at Moffitt.

“It’s probably in most of the states,” said Dr. Greene. “It’s here, you’re not going to stop it.”

As this virus is replicating, mutations are happening. This is normal, scientists expect thousands and thousands of mutations but only a very small number of them are likely to change the virus in a substantial way.

The new strain has approximately 20 mutations.

One, in the spike protein that sticks to your cell, appears to make the virus up to 70 percent more transmissible. While it’s much easier to spread, there’s no evidence it’s more deadly.

“We think there’s cross protection against multiple strains,” said Dr. Greene.

All the evidence shows, the leading vaccines will protect you against the new strain. It’s not genetically different enough — yet.

“There’s going to be in time, a strain that emerges that is not covered by the vaccine we’re getting now that’s just highly likely to happen,” said Dr. Greene.

As mutations continue, the vaccine may have to be altered.  This happens every year with the seasonal flu.

Dr. Greene says the most important thing you can do is wear a mask, stay distant, and get vaccinated.

“The key is if the community levels are mostly protected, you will not have big giant pandemics every year and on and on and on,” said Dr. Greene.

COVID-19 doesn’t mutate as fast as the seasonal flu. This will give scientists time to act, tweaking the vaccine and distributing it, to protect the public. 

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April 24 2021 08:00 am

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