Study: More contagious UK coronavirus variant now projected as dominant in Florida

USF virologist says news expected, no cause for alarm
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Posted at 5:44 PM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 17:44:51-05

TAMPA, Fla. — The B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus is spreading like wildfire across the U.S., and Florida is leading the pack with the highest number of cases. Scientists predict the variant is now the dominant strain in the Sunshine State as of Monday, March 8. But experts say this is no cause for alarm.

When it comes to the UK variant, Florida is number one.

“One of the first places that it came was Florida," said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist at USF Health. "We are leading the country in a number of cases of this variant.”

A CDC-backed study, using data by testing and genomics companies Helix and Illumna, shows the UK is growing by 7.1% every day in the U.S.

“It’s like survival of the fittest and this particular variant is the fittest right now," said Teng.

In Florida, it's growing by 7.6% by the day with transmissions of the strain doubling every nine days. Scientists project that by March 8, the variant will cross over the 50% threshold making it the dominant strain in Florida.

“We had seen what had happened in the U.K so we knew it was going to out-compete everything else," said Teng. It took only about two months for the B.1.1.7 strain to become dominant in the U.K.

The variant appears to be more contagious but Dr. Teng says the news doesn’t come as a surprise.

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“If you look at the graph, it's just gonna keep going on. There are no surprises because it's just going on the same path that it has been," he said referring to the Helix-Illumna study.

But he warns the timing could be a concern because of spring break. A more contagious strain plus an influx of visitors could mean a spike in cases.

“This also is one of those things that we should be careful because it could take off," he said. "You could start off another surge in cases.”

While the UK strain is growing the number of total coronavirus cases is declining in the U.S.

“The good thing though is it’s still susceptible to vaccines, it’s still susceptible to masks, to hand washing to social distancing. There’s no way for it to mutate around those physical barriers we put up," said Teng.

This same study projects the U.K variant will be dominant in the U.S. by mid-March. Teng urges everyone to get their COVID-19 shot when they are able to and to not let up on those good practices just yet.