Florida man infected with UK COVID-19 variant. What that means for the rest of us

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Health said Thursday it has found evidence of the first identified case of the UK COVID-19 variant in the state.

The department said the man who tested positive is in his 20s and living in Martin County on the Treasure Coast. He has no history of travel, according to FDOH.

The department is working with the CDC on the investigation and said it encourages all to continue practicing COVID-19 mitigation.

“At this time, experts anticipate little to no impact on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine,” the department tweeted.

That makes Florida the third state in the United States to report a case of the variant.

Public health officials said the strain is not more deadly or damaging but leads to rapid spread. Officials worry that could lead to more people being infected and increase hospitalizations.

Infectious disease experts say the country needs to do more testing for this strain, so we know just what we’re dealing with.

It was first recognized in the United Kingdom in September.

Infectious Disease expert Mohammed Reza says the man’s test was done at random.

“What they’ve been doing now, more so is looking to sequence up the entire genome of this virus. So they’ve picked now more people than before, or perhaps they just randomly sequence and people that have this infection, and this new string was detected,” Reza said.

Dr. Reza says the country isn’t looking at these new sequences enough. The Washington Post ranks the U.S. 43rd in the world for checking variants like what was found in the UK. To break it down further, Dr. Reza says of the 30,000 plus parts of the virus, the U.S. is only testing 70 to 90 of them.

“We really need to get help from the federal government from the CDC to ramp up how many viruses we’re sequencing that’s in our populations,” he said.

News4Jax asked Dr. Reza why this variant matters and he says the data from the UK shows this strain is more contagious and the man Martin county most likely got it from someone in his community, which means it’s already circulating.

“It is concerning,” Reza said. “But it’s not time for us to be alarmed. Because all the tools that we’ve known how to decrease our risk of catching this virus also works for this more contagious virus”.

He says that includes the vaccines, though we don’t know if it will provide the same level of protection.

Dr. Reza says the most concerning part is the US hasn’t scratched the surface for detecting this virus.

He says the best thing we can do coming into this new year is remain socially distant, wear the mask, and know we aren’t out of the woods yet.

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