The coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom continues to pop up across the country and around the globe. Over the last week, the COVID-19 strain has been identified in four states -- Colorado, California, Florida, and New York.
"The good news is that they don’t seem to cause more serious disease; however the bad news is that they can spread more which means more people will be exposed potentially to COVID, and that could end in more hospitalizations and deaths," said USF Professor of Public Health, Dr. Marissa Levine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says new information about the variant is emerging rapidly, and so far the Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines are still effective against it.
"All these people that have been diagnosed have gotten it through community spread, they have no known travel history, so it’s been here for a while, we’ve just now been able to detect it," explained Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist at University of South Florida Health.
Viruses mutate constantly, and the changes could have negative consequences, which is why keeping surveillance on new strains is so important to public health.
According to the CDC, emerging strains could have the ability to:
- spread more quickly
- cause milder or more severe disease
- evade detection by diagnostic tests
- not respond to treatments
- evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity
"The longer these viruses stay in our population, the more mutations occur, and then the possibility of a more serious virus variant comes up," Levine said. "So we’re not in a good situation right now because we have so much community transmission, it’s been going on for quite some time."
The UK is back in crisis mode with a surge of infections and hospitalizations. The spread of the variant prompted England and Scotland to announce lockdowns starting this week.
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Experts say overwhelming the hospitals here is also a real concern.
"People have gotten complacent, gotten tired, the problem is when you combine that with a more transmissible variant, even if it doesn’t cause more severe disease, again, more cases equals more hospitalizations and that’s gonna put a strain on our healthcare system," said Teng.
That should be a reason for all of us to keep our guard up against this virus.
"We have to rely on masks, distancing, and hygienic practices as our go-to foundational activities that we each need to do," Levine said. "Those are our best tools to fight this virus at this time."
The CDC says the coronavirus strain in South Africa also appears to be more transmissible and is spreading to other countries.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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