One month after the peak of Florida’s spring break, the number of residents infected with more infectious mutated strains of COVID-19 has exploded, rising six-fold since mid-March and leaving 122 people hospitalized.
The information, disclosed in response to a lawsuit by the Orlando Sentinel against the Florida Department of Health, shows the total as of Thursday reached 5,177 cases involving five “variants of concern” — a designation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for mutations that make the virus more transmissible, deadly or resistant to treatment and current vaccines.
In 31 of those cases, the people infected died.
“This is kind of what a lot of public health folks have been afraid of, and why we’re trying to emphasize the need for continued caution as we move forward,” said Zinzi Bailey, a social epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “My biggest fear is that, if we become more lax with our masking and our social distancing, we will actually start creating our own variant” — including, potentially, one that could evade current vaccines.
The data comes as the White House announced an almost $2 billion plan on Friday to enhance the nation’s ability to track coronavirus variants — a move a top COVID adviser Andy Slavitt said is needed to “detect these variants early on before dangerous outbreaks.” About half of the money would go to federal and state efforts to test for the variants.
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