TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida leads the nation when it comes to the new, more contagious COVID-19 variant.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cases of the "UK variant" B.1.1.7, discovered in the United Kingdom last September, have reached 46 in the Sunshine State. California comes in second place with 40 variant cases.
Epidemiologist Mary Jo Trepka said there are likely many more infections than what officials are aware of. The Florida International professor believed most labs are probably not equipped to test for the new strain. The CDC's numbers are likely just a sampling from state surveillance.
"Not every test that is done on a person is sequenced to find out if it's a variant or not," Trepka said. "So, most assuredly, we have way more than those cases."
The big takeaway, Trepka said, the variant is in Florida and is spreading.
President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser gave an update on the variant, Thursday. Dr. Anthony Fauci said it’s about twice as contagious — and new UK reports suggest more deadly. Vaccines, however, look to be just as effective.
Fauci warned the nation to keep its guard up.
"If you have a virus that is more transmissible, you're going to have more cases," Fauci said. "When you get more cases, you’re going to get more hospitalizations, and when you get more hospitalizations -- you're ultimately going to get more deaths."
Florida already has hospital capacity concerns. About 81% of beds are filled, according to federal data from the Department of Health and Human Services. It's ninth fullest in the nation, when including Washington, D.C.
For weeks, state officials have said they're working with the CDC to identify variant cases and will follow any further guidance from the organization. Meanwhile, Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said last month he has the supplies to react as needed.
"Tens of millions of gloves, and masks, and gowns, all sitting in warehouses ready to go in case there is a change here," Moskowitz said. "I think the information is just starting to come out. So, obviously, we're ready to react."
Epidemiologist Jason Salemi explained the best thing the public can do is follow current virus protection measures. The mutation may be more transmissible, the University of South Florida professor said, but social distancing and mask-wearing can keep it at bay.
"What we do stays the exact same," he said. "It, maybe, just increases the urgency with which we do it.”
The UK variant is not the only one out there. Mutations in South Africa and Brazil may be more resistant to current vaccines, but there are no confirmed cases in the U.S. yet.