Public health experts urge people to practice mitigation efforts as COVID-19 variant cases increase

Virus Outbreak Variant
Posted at 6:04 AM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 07:46:44-05

TAMPA — The latest numbers from the Center for Disease Control show Florida has at least 416 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, also known as the highly contagious UK strain.

That’s more than twice as many as California, the state with the next highest case count.

Experts say, those numbers likely aren’t accurate because Florida is only sequencing every few hundred tests to look for different strains.

“Our ability to identify these variants relies on our ability to sample positive specimens, sample specimens from our cases,” said Dr. Jason Salemi, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the USF College of Public Health.

“We’re probably underestimating the number of people with these variant strains that are in the population in Florida,” he added.

Public health experts say another thing to look out for is the reason behind the recent drop in COIVD-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Salemi says part of that dip could be contributed to the main strain becoming more seasonal like the flu, but that may not be the case for the new variants.

“These variants that are emerging, they don’t necessarily have to adopt that same cycle and so that’s what’s concerning. It's what we don’t know about these variants and the extent to which we might start to see a rise again in cases and hospitalizations and all of these indicators,” said Salemi.

Doctors tell us the big message to the Bay area right now is to really practice strict mitigation efforts so we don’t give the virus a chance to keep mutating.

“Obviously them being more transmissible, the more that we let these strains and just the infections in general maintain high rates, the more that they’re replicating, the more likely they are to continue mutating and then we might come in contact with variants that are not only more transmissible but might be more likely to lead to more severe illness,” said Salemi.