JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A high infection rate of the COVID-19 variant of the coronavirus discovered in Britain is prevalent among schoolchildren in Europe and helping to fuel a “robust” uptick in the number of cases and hospitalizations. Experts worry the U.S. could be next if Americans don’t double down on safety measures until more people are vaccinated.
During the vaccine rollout, older populations have been prioritized in Florida. More than 54% of Americans 65 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control, while more than 75% of that same age group have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
While current vaccines provide good protection against the B.1.1.7 variant and a significant percentage of senior citizens are immunized, younger groups are still vulnerable as the variant is more contagious and may cause a more severe iteration of the disease.
“What we do know about at least the British variant is that it transmits a lot faster than what we’ve typically seen for the COVID virus here in Florida,” said Chad Neilsen, director of accreditation and infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville. “There is also some reports and literature suggesting that it also can be more severe of an infection versus some of the other strains that have been more common here.”
The B.1.1.7 variant quickly became the most common version of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, accounting for about 60% of new COVID-19 cases in December. It is now the predominant form of coronavirus in some countries.
On Monday, the CDC had identified 15,511 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the U.S. Florida has the most cases, with 3,191. Michigan has the second most with 1,649.
Florida also leads the nation in other variants, including the B.1.351 -- the so-called South African strain -- and “Brazilian” P.1 variant.
According to figures from the state lab, 62 cases of variant strains have been identified in Duval County and 14 in Clay County.
Heather Huffman, interim director of the health department for both Duval and Clay counties, said mutations in viruses -- including the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic -- are common and not unexpected.
“That is the nature of how they continue to survive,” Huffman told Jennifer Waugh on Monday during The Morning Show. “The way to combat that is to get people vaccinated to where it doesn’t continue to spread and then it doesn’t have an opportunity to create those mutations or variants.”
In Florida’s Orange County, officials reported a rise in cases in the 18-to-25 age group in late March and a third of all of the county’s COVID-19 hospitalizations were people younger than 45, according to Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.
Doubling down on safety measures -- masking up, social distancing, avoiding crowds -- coupled with quick and efficient vaccinations, can help curb another COVID-19 surge, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Saturday.
“We say it over and over again and we need the local people, we need the governors and the mayors and others to be able to say, ‘We’re not out of it yet,’” Fauci said.
“This is not the time to take your eye off the ball,” Huffman added. “Protect yourself and your family -- all those loved ones around.”
On Monday, the Florida Department of Health data show 6.3 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the state, with nearly 2.7 million people receiving their first dose and 3.7 million having either completed both shots or received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.