FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Long lines are forming at COVID-19 testing sites across South Florida as cases of the virus continue to climb.

The wait time at the testing side inside Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale was two to three hours on Thursday. Health experts are warning the delta variant is not the same as the original strain of COVID-19, meaning it has to be treated differently.

“It’s really sad,” Florida International University infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty said. “It breaks my heart, the people who are getting sick. We’re estimating somewhere between 50% to 60% more contagious than the alpha variant, which is that one we first detected in the U.K. The alpha variant was already 50% more contagious than the original strain that circulated the world from Wuhan.”

7SkyForce hovered over the testing site where a long line of vehicles could be seen waiting, a sight that hasn’t been seen in months.

Health experts said the rise in cases is due to the unvaccinated population passing the virus around and spreading it. They also compared the delta variant to velcro.

“The shape of the spike is a little bit different,” Marty said. “There’s some other changes that allow it to reproduce at a higher, faster rate.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida reported nearly 18,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, which has not been seen since the winter surge.

The CDC reported coronavirus-related deaths to be increasing slightly, which is similar to the data that was released during the summer and winter surges of the pandemic in 2020.

The cases typically increased for two weeks to a month before a spike in deaths was reported.

Doctors across South Florida are concerned this is the same pattern that will repeat soon.

“Unfortunately, I think the progression of this disease and the progression will increase our mortality,” said Dr. Sergio Segarra, Chief Medical Officer at Baptist Hospital. “We’re seeing a lot more mortality in younger, very productive otherwise healthy people in our society. We’re stressed to very serious levels — 90-plus percent of those are unvaccinated, but what’s concerning is we’re seeing an increase in more breakthrough cases.”

Breakthrough cases are when vaccinated individuals contract the virus, and health professionals said the delta variant is most likely responsible.

“One of the things I was most concerned about is to be where we are now,” Segarra said. “This virus is more easily spread amongst everyone. When we came out with the vaccine, if you remember, one of the things was we couldn’t spread. That was with the prior variant. With this variant, we have found out that we can spread. When we thought of having a vaccine, and then, we get a vaccine, and then, we think we’re out of the woods, and then, we’re right back almost where we started.”

Doctors said the best way for the public to protect themselves against the delta variant is to get vaccinated.

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