LAKE MARY, Fla. - The first case of a highly contagious United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Volusia County. Cases have also been found in Orange County and Seminole County.
"I can confirm 1 case of the B.1.1.7 variant has been reported in Volusia County," the Department of Health in Volusia County told FOX 35. "We learn of these cases when they are reported by the lab that conducts the COVID-19 test."
Health officials in Orange County reported early Thursday evening that two tests that came back positive in that county were administered to residents who actually live in Seminole and Broward counties in Florida. The Florida Department of Health in Seminole County later confirmed to FOX 35 News that an additional five cases have been identified in that county.
Authorities are now conducting contact tracing to determine if others could have been exposed to the U.K. variant strain of coronavirus.
"The cases are always first assigned to the place they got tested if they don’t have a specific location of the case," explained Dr. Raul Pino, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. "Then, after you get this case, you review more in detail that individual and then you determine, okay this is a resident of Seminole that got tested in Orange County, so we pass the case to Seminole for more trace investigation, more details."
Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that the U.K. variant does appear to be more deadly. It had been widely reported as being a more contagious strain of the coronavirus, but experts had warned that it was not a more deadly variant.
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed on Friday that the new variant appears to be as much as 30% more virulent, based on death rates among patients 65 or older.
"This one is more infectious than the original virus we saw and that’s the concern," Dr. Pino said. "This is spreading so fast to so many people that if something like this were to become resistant to the vaccine that we have invested so many resources, then all our work that we have done is kind of null by it. And that’s why we want to increase the vaccination."
The U.K. strain has been detected within the U.S., with cases recorded in 22 states so far.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has projected that due to its more contagious nature, the U.K. variant will be the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.
Moderna announced Monday that its current COVID-19 vaccine appears to work against two highly-transmissible coronavirus variants first detected in the U.K. and South Africa. But researchers found that the vaccine may be less effective against the variant discovered in South Africa.
"The pharmaceutical companies have assured everyone that so far the vaccine seems to work with these variants," Dr. Pino added. "Remember, the vaccines that we are giving right now doesn’t contain the virus at all. What it contains is proteins from the virus. As long as the new variants have those proteins, it will continue to identify the infection."
As a precaution, Moderna is developing a new form of the vaccine against the variant that could be used as a booster against the virus.
"We need to immunize as many people as possible before this virus continues to mutate," said Dr. Pino. "The concern is that it could continue to mutate and some of the mutations could bring resistance."
Orange County is reporting more than 100,000 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. So far, 937 Orange County residents have died from COVID-19. The county is still advising people who are 65-and-over to get vaccinated.
Four community centers are open to help people sign up for appointments in Holden Heights, Pine Hills, Taft, and East Orange County.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.