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More Contagious COVID-19 Strain Discovered in Third US State

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Florida health authorities on Thursday reported finding evidence of the latest U.S. case of the new and apparently more contagious coronavirus strain first seen in England, saying it was detected in a man with no recent travel history.

The case, disclosed in a Florida Health Department statement, comes after reports in recent days of multiple cases of the strain discovered in Colorado and California.

Florida’s health statement said the new virus variant was detected in a man in his 20s in Martin County, which abuts the Atlantic Coast above densely populated South Florida.

It said it was working with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control on investigating the case.

The health department did not give further details, such as releasing the man’s medical condition or how the strain was detected.

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California on Wednesday became the second state to confirm a case of the new virus strain.

The announcement came 24 hours after news of the first reported U.S. variant infection, which emerged in Colorado — in a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak.

Scientists in the U.K. believe the variant is more contagious than previously identified strains. The cases have raised questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now.

The Florida Health Department also tweeted late Thursday that experts anticipate little to no impact on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccinations being rolled out in a state facing overwhelming demand for the vaccines from its large senior population.

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Also Thursday, state officials reported Florida’s highest daily jump in COVID-19 cases.

The state’s Department of Health reported 17,192 new cases and 133 new deaths, raising the toll to 21,857. State hospitals tallied 6,352 COVID-19 patients by late Thursday morning.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said that people 65 and older — more than 4 million of Florida’s 21 million population — would be prioritized to receive the vaccine. But hospitals and health departments have been struggling to keep up with the demand.

People have clogged hotlines to book appointments, and some seniors have camped out overnight outside vaccination sites.

Traffic stretched nearly half a mile from the Health Department’s headquarters near the St. Johns County municipal complex in St. Augustine, where some people said they waited hours for the shot.

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Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel that the state has directed distribution of about 700,000 doses, but only about a quarter of those have been used so far.

“That tells me there are vaccines sitting in freezers … we want all of our partners to know it’s their jobs to get the vaccine out there,” Moskowitz said.

María Elvira Salazar, a Republican who defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala in November, learned she was infected with the virus during an emergency trip to the hospital for treatment of heart arrhythmia.

Salazar was treated, released and will be quarantined for at least 14 days and miss Sunday’s swearing-in ceremony of the 117th Congress in Washington, her office announced Thursday.

In a tweet, Salazar said: “I am in quarantine at home & getting better each day. I look forward to hitting the ground running for my community, once it is medically permissible.”


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