UK coronavirus variant on track to become dominant strain in Florida

Over the last three months, the COVID-19 U.K. variant has spread across the country.  As of this week, the CDC reports the B.1.1.7 strain is in 46 states.

At the beginning of the year, the CDC warned this more infectious version of the coronavirus could become the dominant strain in the U.S. this month.

"Florida seems to be the place that’s developing the highest prevalence of this," said USF College of Public Health Distinguished Professor, Dr. Thomas Unnasch.

More than 3,000 cases of the strain have been reported across the country, and Florida is the epicenter with nearly 650.  However, that CDC tally likely only represents a fraction of the total B.1.1.7 infections.

"It’s probably really running pretty rampant out there in the population right now, would be my guess," Unnasch said.

A study done by two testing companies working with health officials to track the U.K. variant found it is growing by 7% every day in the states.  Here in Sunshine State, infections of the strain double about every 9 days -- Putting B.1.1.7 on track to become dominant.

"It’s gonna take over pretty soon, probably around late March, beginning of April," said Unnasch.

Experts say the next few weeks will be critical.  When this version of the virus became the most common across the pond, infections surged. 

That has not happened here yet, but with other states lifting restrictions and spring break trips, it is a concern.

"We’re really, really close now," Unnasch said.  "And if we just all pull together, we continue to do the social distancing, and we continue, especially, to wear the masks for another few weeks, it’s not gonna be very long, the vaccine process is gonna get ahead of this, and it’s not gonna have a chance anymore.  We can all get our lives back."

The B.1.1.7 strain is more infectious, and preliminary reports suggest it could be about 30% more deadly.  Thankfully, evidence shows the three COVID-19 vaccines are all effective against it.