Twelve of the state’s known 92 cases of the more contagious B.1.1.7 strain of the coronavirus are in Tampa Bay, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Seven are in Hillsborough County. Four are in Pinellas, and one is in Pasco. The rest are sprinkled throughout 19 of Florida’s 67 counties, with the most in Broward (28) and Miami-Dade (23) counties.
The B.1.1.7 strain was initially reported in the United Kingdom, and Florida’s first case appeared in Martin County on Dec. 31. As of Thursday, there were cases in 28 states, with Florida tying California for the most.
All along, experts have said they expected the variant to take hold and eventually become the country’s dominant strain of the coronavirus, which the CDC predicts will happen by March. While it’s not more deadly than the original, the variant has been found to be about 50 percent more contagious, meaning it can spread at a faster rate.
“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,” said Dr. Nicole Iovine, an infectious disease expert at the University of Florida. Vaccines are key, too, as they appear to be working against the variant.
Health department spokesman Jason Mahon said the state is using genome sequencing to track changes in the coronavirus, running hundreds of tests a week. “The department is actively looking for the variant in Florida, which is why more cases are being discovered in Florida,” he said.
There are other variants of the coronavirus emerging across the globe, including one from South Africa and two from Brazil. But only B.1.1.7 has been found in Florida.
Staff writer Allison Ross contributed to this report.
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