Troubling new COVID-19 strain has spread to about half the states; FL leads nation in those variant cases

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Nearly half of the nation has seen cases of the new, more transmissible COVID-19 strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom, with Florida once again leading in U.S. cases.

Late Monday, Florida jumped from 50 to 92 cases of the variant known as B.1.1.7. (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.)

Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees and the Florida Department of Health still haven’t been providing information to the public about the troubling new strain. DeSantis is largely focused on the vaccination rollout in the state and opening up more vaccine distribution sites.

Previously, California had reported the most variant cases in the nation, with 72, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But now, California is slightly trailing Florida with 90 cases as of Tuesday. The CDC updates case numbers every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, according to its website.

Since Friday, additional states have reported cases of the new COVID-19 strain – Washington and North Carolina, with one case alike. As of Tuesday, 24 states have identified infections with the new COVID-19 variants, totaling 293 cases.

That number compares to 195 cases in 22 states reported on Friday by the CDC. Cases are expected to continue to climb, as federal health officials earlier warned of the new COVID-19 variant potentially becoming the dominant strain by March.

At issue is that Florida’s top officials are failing to inform the public about the emergence of the new COVID-19 strain that is potentially more lethal, in order to make decisions about strengthening safety measures to protect against infections.

The state health department has been silent on the issue since tweeting about the first case on Dec. 31, 2020, involving a man in his 20s in Martin County, north of Palm Beach County. Lawmakers and local health officials held a press conference on Jan. 2 in Martin County, but that was it. There’s been no press conferences, news releases or Twitter and Facebook since that Martin case was identified on New Year’s Eve.

CDC health experts and media reports have also raised concerns over other variants of the coronavirus circulating in other countries, such as COVID-19 strains in South Africa and Brazil. Scientists are hopeful that the current vaccines used to fight the pandemic from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna will offer protection against mutations.

“In Brazil, a variant of SARS-CoV-2 (known as P.1) emerged and was identified in four travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at Haneda airport outside Tokyo, Japan,” the CDC said on its website.

Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine offers overall protection against COVID-19 variants but more protection against the UK strain than the one found in South Africa, according an NPR report.

That report said Moderna plans to “test booster doses of its vaccine, including one that would be tailored to fight strains that have recently emerged.” The South Africa variant has not appeared in the United States but that could change as the pandemic continues.

Here are the variant cases across the country as of Tuesday, from the CDC:

Florida, 92 cases.

California, 90

New York, 22

Michigan, 17

Colorado, 9

Illinois, 9

Texas, 7

Georgia, 6

Minnesota, 5

Pennsylvania, 5

Connecticut, 4

Indiana, 4

Maryland, 4

Massachusetts, 3

Wisconsin, 3

Wyoming, 2

New Jersey, 2

New Mexico, 2

Tennessee, 2

Louisiana, 1

Oregon, 1

Utah, 1

North Carolina, 1

Washington, 1