MIAMI (WSVN) - Infectious disease experts said a stronger strain of COVID-19 is circulating around the Sunshine State, but it’s been detected most in South Florida.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the virus is changing fast.
“Bottom line is we take these mutations very seriously,” he said.
To date, scientists have their eye on three variants of the virus spotted in the U.S.: one from South Africa, one from the United Kingdom and one from Brazil.
Officials said they all have one thing in common: they’re all easier to catch, and they spread faster.
“It really means an increased risk for reinfections for people who have already had COVID,” said Fauci.
In South Florida, the U.K. strain is already making its way through the community. Twenty-eight cases have been reported in Broward County and 23 in Miami-Dade.
“I believe, with regard to the UK variant, that we will be OK,” said Fauci.
Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, said she is less concerned about the U.K. variant than the other two.
“The real worry are the Brazil variant and the South African variant,” she said.
Marty said both Pfizer and Moderna are working quickly to update their vaccines to protect people against these mutations, but that is more than a month away.
“People who got the original vaccine may need a booster at some point to get back to that 95% level of efficacy,” she said.
“What is worrisome is that the pandemic right now is out of control,” said Dr. Marco Salemi, a pathologist at the University of Florida.
That is why officials across South Florida are taking steps to vaccinate seniors as fast as possible. On Thursday, the City of Miami Gardens teamed up with the Jessie Trice Community Health Center to bus residents from certain senior living facilities to receive their first dose.
Among them were Marie and Leroy Conyers.
“It’s a true thing. We’ve had a lot of friends that have passed on,” said Leroy.
In Miami, first responders delivered doses of the vaccine to residents 65 and older at the Victoria Apartments in Little Havana as part of an ongoing program.
The vaccinations took place as the Florida Department of Health reported reported more than 11,000 new cases of the virus and a positivity rate of 7.7%.
Salemi said the best way to get these variants under control is to speed up vaccine distribution.
“We are still talking about reaching maybe one-third of the U.S. population within the next three months. This is way too low,” he said.
Cases of the South African strain have been reported in South Carolina.
Experts are particularly concerned about the Brazil strain due to South Floridians’ frequent travel to and from the South American country.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nevertheless stress that the stronger variants won’t necessarily make patients sicker or that they are any deadlier than the strain that the country has been dealing with for the past year.
Experts agree that, until the vaccine is more widely available, the best way to help stop the spread of COVID-19 are wearing a mask, hand washing and social distancing.
Anyone with questions and concerns about the coronavirus can call the Florida Department of Health’s 24-hour hotline at 1-866-779-6121.
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