Variant strain of COVID-19 detected in Hillsborough County, infectious disease doctor says

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – An infectious disease doctor told 8 On Your Side some of Florida’s 50 cases of COVID-19 confirmed by the CDC to be caused by variant strains of the virus have been detected in Hillsborough County.

The only state with more is California where 72 cases have been identified.

“The current feeling is it’s definitely in Florida, it’s definitely in our area and that because the U.S. is under-sampling in sequencing for this variant and other variants it’s probably underestimated how much is here,” said Dr. Kami Kim, the director of the Infectious Diseases Division of USF Health.

Dr. Kim is also an attending physician at Tampa General Hospital. She said TGH is working on a strategy to identify more variant COVID-19 cases in Tampa Bay.

“At least the rate of increase has slowed down,” Dr. Kim said of the virus in Florida amid the winter surge, “but the concern is that some of these variants will actually take over a percentage of the population which seems to have happened in the UK.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday in addition to spreading more quickly, there is some evidence the variant of the virus first identified in London “may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

Dr. Kim said there is not enough information to say that for certain as researchers rush to learn more about the mutated versions of the coronavirus.

“What’s starting to emerge is the vaccine to these variants should still be efficacious,” she said. “But slightly less efficacious.”

Dr. Kim added that is why it is critical to give people optimal protection with two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in accordance with the recommended regimen of three or four weeks apart.

An analysis of vaccine date by USF epidemiologist Jason Salemi found Hillsborough County has the lowest percentage of seniors to receive at least one shot among the five most populated counties in Florida.

More than 20 percent of residents older than 65 years old in Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach counties have received a first dose of the vaccine, while only 13 percent of the senior population have in Hillsborough County.

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