Coronavirus variant makes social measures to prevent disease spread more important, doctors say

A more contagious strain of COVID-19 has been found in 12 states, and nearly a third of those cases are right here in Florida.

Experts say the variant is likely much more widespread and makes some behaviors even riskier.

It’s a coronavirus variant that started in the U.K. Since reaching our shores, the Centers for Disease Control has been tracking the spread of the new strain. The latest data shows 76 confirmed cases nationwide, with 22 cases in Florida.

"Viruses mutate, this is what they do, and they mutate to try and make themselves better at infecting people," said USF College of Public Health Distinguished Professor, Dr. Thomas Unnasch. "So we’re unfortunately seeing that right now."

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So far, researchers say the variant does not cause more severe disease, and the COVID-19 vaccines are effective against it. However, the variant has the ability to transmit from person to person much more easily.

"The particular mutation that is kinda characteristic of this strain is a mutation in the spike protein, which is on the outside of the virus and on a particular region of that protein that binds to our cells," explained Dr. Michael Teng, a Virologist at USF Health.

"And that means the virus is much more effective of getting into our cells, and of course once it’s inside the cell it can replicate and make many more copies of itself," Unnasch said.

Making the mutated virus much more infectious than the current dominant strain in the US. According to scientists, it could be 50% to 60% more contagious among all ages.

"So what that means, if you were walking into a room with 100 people and you infected 10 of them with the old strain, now you’d start infecting 15 of them," said Teng.

Experts say that exponential spread makes behavior you may have considered only moderately risky, much more so now. For example, air travel or going to a bar or crowded restaurant.

"Anything where you’re gonna be in a crowded position where you’re breathing in, sharing each other’s air it’s going to be a lot more risky than it would be, previously," Unnasch said.

The best way to make sure you do not contract any strain of COVID-19 is to continue wearing masks, social distancing, washing your hands frequently.