TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The more infectious U.K. COVID variant continues spreading in Florida. New data shows the state's cases now make up near 30% of the nation's total, more than any other state.
Formally known as the B.1.1.7 variant, it showed up in Florida late last year. The mutation has since grabbed the attention of medical experts who consider it a growing concern.
Peggy Rigsby of Tallahassee has trying to monitor its spread, patiently waiting for the pandemic to end after the virus canceled all of her travel plans in 2020.
"I have Savannah and Charleston on my list," Rigsby said. "I was going to take a cruise down the St. Lawrence Seaway."
The Florida senior says the risk remains too high to reschedule and has since buried herself in books waiting for the uncertainty to subside.
"I'm retired and I expected to do a lot when I retired," Rigsby said. "To not be able to do anything, it's frustrating."
Mary Jo Trepka, an epidemiologist at Florida International University, said Florida is in a race with the virus. As vaccinations continue, she said, it was critically important the state step up mitigation efforts to prevent spread, hospitalizations and deaths.
"That requires everyone to do their part," Trepka said. "The physical distancing, the wearing of masks."
Those measures were not a common sight post-Super Bowl victory in Tampa on Sunday night.
Scores of people gathered along streets without face coverings. Social distancing appeared impossible. It prompted some Florida lawmakers to renew calls for the state to step up enforcement of virus protection.
"I'm sure that someone will die because of the super-spreader events that were held in the Tampa Bay region," said State Rep. Evan Jenne, the Democratic co-minority leader. "There is mixed messages coming out of the first floor of the governor's office."
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday his strategy remained fast and furious vaccination. He's prioritized immunizing the state's senior population, regularly touting that Florida has vaccinated more 65 and older residents than any other state.
"The adjustments we've been making are finding areas where the senior population has gotten a smaller percentage than we'd like," he said. "Some of the counties and the state sites are getting -- many of them are getting plussed up."
So far, research suggests current vaccines work just as well against the U.K. variant. But ongoing spread, epidemiologists warn, could create more vaccine-resistant virus mutations like the South African variant. It was recently discovered in the U.S. and has spread to at least three states north of Florida.