With Florida continuing to lead the nation in the new, more transmissible COVID-19 strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom, health experts are concerned that the variant cases could exacerbate an already strained health care system.
As of Thursday, Florida has 46 of the so-called B.1.1.7 variant cases, more than any other state, according to the latest report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overall, the CDC has identified 144 of the variant cases — up from 122 earlier this week — in 20 states, and announced last week that the new more, transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the dominant strain by March.
As of Thursday, New York has seen a jump in the variant cases — up to 17 — and Georgia now has five cases, up from just one earlier this week.
(The cases identified are based on a sampling of specimens and do not represent the total number of B.1.1.7 cases across the nation, according to the CDC.)
Marissa Lee, a registered nurse at Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee, warned that the new COVID-19 strains could trigger more hospitalizations and fatalities, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee is a member of the the National Nurses United, a large union representing registered nurses across the nation.
“While data is still emerging about these new variants, more transmissible variants are concerning because more transmission will mean more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths,” Lee said in an email to the Florida Phoenix.
It’s too early to let up on safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and health care workers need more protective equipment such as “N95, more protective respirators, isolation gowns or coveralls, eye protection, gloves, testing, and safe staffing,” Lee said.
“The emergence of more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants underlines the importance of taking steps to prevent transmission,” she said.
“We need to keep using the measures that prevent transmission—like staying at home, not gathering with others outside your household, and fully protecting nurses and other essential workers. It is imperative that nurses and other healthcare workers are fully protected at work.”
Meanwhile, state officials including Gov. Ron DeSantis have been mum about the B.1.1.7 variant cases. Unlike other states, top Florida officials are not releasing information through press releases, social media or news conferences. DeSantis continues to focus almost solely on vaccinations and opening more locations for vaccine distribution.
The public and health experts in the state remain in the dark regarding detailed information such as counties with variant cases, and gender and age related to each case.
But the Florida Department of Health did tweet about the first case in Florida on New Year’s Eve, involving a young man in his 20s in Martin County, north of Palm Beach County.
In a phone conversation with the Phoenix, Dr. Michael Teng, associate professor of medicine at the University of South Florida, said he’s also unaware of information related to counties, other than Martin, where the 46 variant cases have been identified in Florida.
“That information has not been released so we don’t really know. I don’t think the (Florida) Department of Health is doing the sequencing themselves. I think all this information is coming from the CDC,” he said.
With Florida surpassing 1.6 million coronavirus cases and continuing to lead the nation in the more communicable COVID-19 variants, Teng says the focus should be on mitigation efforts to curb the spread.
“Right now, I think the major concern is getting transmission rates down,” he said.
The state needs a more efficient rollout of the vaccines to curb the spread of the new COVID-19 variants and the public should continue safety measures such as “physical distancing” and “avoiding crowds,” Teng added.
“There are two things to fight: the transmission of these variants as well as the regular circulating virus.”
Here are the states with cases of the new contagious strain called B.1.1.7:
Florida, 46 cases
New York, 17
New Mexico, 2