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Florida Reports New Contagious COVID-19 Strain

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - A contagious new strain of the coronavirus that has spread in Britain has been detected in a man in Florida, the state Department of Health said Thursday night.

"Florida has evidence of the first identified case of the UK COVID-19 variant in Martin County," the department said in a Twitter post. "The individual is a male in his 20s with no history of travel. The Department is working with the CDC on this investigation. We encourage all to continue practicing COVID-19 mitigation."

While there is reason to hope 2021 will eventually mean the end of the coronavirus pandemic, on the first day of the new year, the United States officially has reached 20 million cases of COVID-19.

To put the level of that failure into perspective, we have the most cases in the world.

The second-worst in the world is India and even though they have four times as many people as we do, we have almost twice as many cases as they do.

In the US, California is the worst of the 50 states.

On Friday, it reported 585 covid-19 deaths in a single day and their hospitals are, according to one health official, "On the brink of catastrophe."

Here in South Florida, cases are surging and the positivity rate remains above nine percent.

And all this is without knowing the effects yet of holiday gatherings.

Exhausted health care workers are starting 2021 much like they ended 2020, trying to save lives in hospitals overflowing with coronavirus patients.

Southern California hospitals are so overcrowded, some are beginning to ration treatments.

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Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says, "It's a good reminder that this virus is not child's play."

Finding variants is key to stopping new clusters, but the US is doing only a fraction of the genetic sequencing needed, says James Lu, President of Helix, a company helping to track the presence of this new strain.

"We're probably under-sampling, so we're likely to be having some circulation of that within the community itself."

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist, who has been on the frontlines since the beginning of the pandemic says, the new variant is believed to be 50 percent more contagious and there is a growing concern – because it spreads faster.

"If you think about the reality of this variant is that it has 14 mutations. Of those 14 mutations, 3 are particularly bad because they alter how the spike in the protein works and how it is shaped," she adds.

"So, first, it latches on better than it gets into our cells easier. And another change is that it is allowing it to replicate faster inside our cells. Which means each person that gets this has a lot more virus to share with others. And the virus they share is more likely to get into your cells and spread damage."

Health experts are predicting an explosion in covid cases - partly due to new year's gatherings and people traveling over the holidays.

"It is very important that people realize that when we let a wild virus spread not only are you increasing the risk of individuals, but you are also facilitating the creation of more variants."

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's contributed to this report.)

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