The highly contagious delta variant is spreading rapidly in Florida and is the dominant strain of the COVID-19 virus in the country, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC data released Tuesday shows that the delta variant accounted for 13.2 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Florida as of June 19. That’s up from 2.3 percent as of June 5.
“We shouldn’t be surprised at how quickly the delta variant is spreading here,” said Derek Cummins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, “given what we saw elsewhere in the world where it took over.”
The delta variant, which was first identified in December in India, quickly spread to become the dominant strain in both India and the United Kingdom.
Tracking data from the Florida Department of Health indicates that the delta variant is present in 34 Florida counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Polk and Citrus counties, as of June 29.
The delta variant accounts for more than 51 percent of new COVID-19 infections in the country, according to CDC estimates.
New infections and hospitalizations have increased in recent weeks as the delta variant spreads. Nearly 16,000 new coronavirus cases were detected in Florida last week, a 35 percent increase over the week before. Florida also saw 1,963 new hospitalizations from June 27 to July 4, an increase of 18 percent.
As more and more elderly residents are vaccinated, fatalities due to the coronavirus continue to fall, with 213 new deaths recorded in Florida in the past week, down from 280 per week early last month.
Cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state are still below levels seen as recently as April, but are a worrying sign as vaccination rates stagnate across the state. Fifty-three percent of eligible Florida residents have been fully vaccinated, and 62 percent have received at least one shot.
The delta variant may be as much as 50 percent more infectious, according to a Public Health England report published last month. This means the virus will spread faster, especially among unvaccinated individuals.
Vaccinations offer highly effective protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, according to the CDC. But that’s only true for fully vaccinated individuals. A recent study found that the Pfizer vaccine is 33 percent effective among people who have had only the first of the two-part vaccination series.
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