The number of new cases of coronavirus in Florida continue to drop despite the high prevalence in the state of the B117 variant – also known as the UK variant.
At least 105 new coronavirus deaths and 5,214 new cases were reported in Florida on Friday, March 12. Over the past week, there has been an average of 4,523 cases per day, a decrease of 24 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
Florida leads the nation with 690 confirmed cases of the B117 variant, but the state’s 75 percent decline in total of new cases since early January provides a glimmer of hope that the new variant will not trigger another surge.
“The good news from Florida is an encouraging sign for the rest of us. It doesn’t mean America is out of the woods. But it does suggest we could emerge sooner than we thought,” wrote Andrew Romano for Yahoo News.
Experts were surprised by the development as UK officials warned that the B117 variant is way more contagious than prior strands.
“I think we just have to keep watching the data. If cases continue to drop in Florida despite circulating variants, maybe the variant won’t be as bad as was predicted,” said Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.
“This is why we have to avoid speculating on variants until we have the data.”
Earlier this week, researchers estimated that B117 had reached more than half of all new cases in Florida after accounting for only four percent of cases a month ago.
The downtrend of new cases covered the week of the Super Bowl LV held in Tampa, Florida last month, as well as the celebration that followed after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led by their 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady toppled Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9. (Related: If you didn’t wear a mask at the Super Bowl, the police are now hunting for you to press criminal charges.)
Florida’s latest coronavirus surge peaked on Jan. 8 at 84 daily new cases per 100,000 population, but cases have steadily dropped and stood at 22 per 100,000 on Thursday, March 11.
Hospitalizations have also declined by half over the same period, as well as the test positivity rate, which is now at 4.88 percent. Deaths have also declined sharply.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, around 18.5 percent of Floridians have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine while 10 percent are now fully vaccinated.
Judd hinted that the vaccine rollout arrived in time to save the day, pointing out that data from Israel showed that even partial vaccination seems to limit the spread of B117.
“While the variant spread rapidly in the UK, there was little data as to how it would spread in population with some level of vaccination,” she said.
Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and researcher, called the trend in Florida a “bellwether to know if the B117 strain will hit the US.”
“And there’s no sign of any increase in cases. All good so far,” he tweeted earlier this week.
However, new research has emerged suggesting that the B117 variant is more lethal and more contagious. Recently published in the British Medical Journal, the new study found that the more infectious variant is between 30 percent and 100 percent more deadly.
“In the community, death from Covid-19 is still a rare event, but the B117 variant raises the risk,” said Robert Challen, lead author of the study from the University of Exeter. “Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly, this makes B117 a threat that should be taken seriously.”
Researchers looked at death rates among people infected with the new variant and those infected with other strains.
They found that the variant first detected in Kent – a county in England – led to 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 patients. There were only 141 deaths among the same number of closely matched patients who had other strains.
Meanwhile, UK scientists said the B117 variant is about 40-70 percent more transmissible than the first-wave coronavirus.
The variant has a relatively high 23 mutations in its genetic code and some of these have enabled it to spread faster.
Mutations of the virus have raised concerns about whether vaccines would be effective against the new strains, but research suggests the Pfizer jab is just as effective against the variant of coronavirus as it was against the original pandemic strain. Other studies also indicate that the Moderna vaccine is highly effective against the variant. (Related: Vaccine makers express confidence that their shots can take on new “mutant” strain of the same coronavirus their colleagues engineered in the first place.)
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