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Here’s what to know about the variant coronavirus strain in Florida

It won’t make you sicker, experts say. But it spreads more easily and will likely become the country’s dominant strain of the virus.
People in their cars form a line in November at the COVID-19 testing site at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. A much more contagious variant of the virus has shown up in 22 people in Florida, and officials are keeping a close eye to see if it spreads.
People in their cars form a line in November at the COVID-19 testing site at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. A much more contagious variant of the virus has shown up in 22 people in Florida, and officials are keeping a close eye to see if it spreads. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 14
Updated Jan. 19

So there’s a variant strain of the coronavirus in Florida. How worried should you be?

Experts say not much more worried than before, when the state had only one strain of COVID-19. That’s because the variant will not make you more sick, and both of the approved vaccines will protect you from it.

However, it does spread more easily, said Dr. Nicole Iovine, an infectious disease expert at the University of Florida. So far, only 22 people in the state have tested positive for it, but she expects that number to grow.

“This variant does not cause more severe disease,” she said. “The concern is that this going to create more cases more quickly.”

Related: Florida leads the country in cases of highly infectious UK variant

There were 122 cases of the variant in 21 states as of Jan. 19, with Florida reporting the most at 46, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those numbers are expected to grow significantly, with the variant becoming the country’s dominant strain by March, the CDC predicted this week.

That’s what has happened in the United Kingdom, where the variant in Florida originated, according to BBC News.

Eventually, the variant will take hold in the Sunshine State, and cases will start to grow quickly, said Michael Teng, an associate professor and expert in immunology and vaccine development at the University of South Florida.

Some research models have shown the strain is about 50 percent more transmissible than the original, Teng said, adding that it could have a significant effect on the state’s overall number of infections.

The strain is a “very active area of investigation” for researchers, Iovine said. In the meantime, the public should continue following protocols that help stop the spread of all strains of COVID-19.

“We have to continue to be really vigilant about the things we all know we should be doing, like wearing masks, avoiding crowds and social distancing,” Iovine said. “And now, the addition is getting the vaccine as soon as it is available to you.”

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