New virus strain emerges in Florida

A contagious new strain of the novel coronavirus that has spread in Britain has been detected in a man in Florida, the state Department of Health said Thursday night.

"Florida has evidence of the first identified case of the UK COVID-19 variant in Martin County," the department said in a Twitter post. "The individual is a male in his 20s with no history of travel. The Department is working with the CDC on this investigation. We encourage all to continue practicing COVID-19 mitigation."

In another tweet, the department added, "Experts anticipate little to no impact on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine."

The announcement came after reports that the strain, or variant, of the coronavirus also had been detected in Colorado and California. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website that the variant is estimated to have first emerged in the United Kingdom in September.

"Preliminary epidemiologic indicators suggest that this variant is associated with increased transmissibility (i.e. more efficient and rapid transmission," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website said. "Currently there is no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on the severity of the disease or vaccine efficacy."

While the strain might not increase the severity of the disease, rapid spread could lead to more people being infected --- and, as a result, suffering health problems.

LINK: COVID-19 vaccine distribution information in Tampa Bay area counties

British authorities are blaming the new variant of the coronavirus for soaring infection rates in London and southeast England. They say the new version is more easily transmitted than the original, but stress there is no evidence it makes people sicker.

The emergence of the strain comes as Florida has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, including 17,192 new reported cases Thursday and 127 additional reported deaths. In all, more than 1.32 million cases have been reported in Florida since the pandemic started, with 21,673 reported deaths of Florida residents.

Thursday’s announcement also came as the state moves forward with using new vaccines to try to curb the virus. Through Wednesday, 211,165 people had been vaccinated in Florida, according to Department of Health numbers.

The emergence of the variant in Britain has led to a series of travel restrictions to try to prevent the spread to other countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order, which took effect Monday, that requires air passengers to get tested and provide negative test results before flying from the United Kingdom to the United States.

But the tweet Thursday night from the Department of Health said the man in Martin County had no history of travel, indicating that he received the variant from someone else in the United States. The department did not post any additional information about the man or his condition.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

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