WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Calling it a "very concerning" trend, Palm Beach County's top health official says Florida is leading the nation in the number of COVID-19 variant cases, and there could be countless more cases that have not been reported.
Speaking to county commissioners on Tuesday, Dr. Alina Alonso said there have been 1,070 confirmed cases in Florida for three COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa.
The majority of those cases are from the U.K. variant with 1,040.
Palm Beach County has a total of 85 variant cases, with 83 coming from the U.K. variant, according to numbers presented on Tuesday.
"This is very serious because if the variant becomes the predominant virus, that means that it spreads much easier," Alonso said. "It's not more deadly, it's not more lethal. But it does spread much quicker."
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Alonso added there's very specific criteria to test for COVID-19 variants.
"These variants are only tested when we see an outbreak that makes us suspicious that it could be the variant because of how many people become positive," Alonso said.
The testing process involves three steps: a local health department sends information on the potential variant cases to Florida's state epidemiology department, which then gathers more data and sends it to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for official testing and confirmation.
"We know for a fact that there's a lot more variant than what we've tested," Alonso said. "It's growing so fast, the fear is it will become the predominant virus."
Florida in particular has become a hot spot for COVID-19 variant cases because it's a hub for international travel.
"Most people who have caught it here have not traveled. They're catching it from people who have come here," Alonso said.
The health director urged the public to continue wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, washing and sanitizing your hands frequently, and if possible, get vaccinated.
"The feeling now is one of, you get your two vaccines and you feel like Superman," Alonso said. "But you have to hold yourself back. You have to realize that you only have 95% coverage and that you can still get the virus. You're not gonna get sick and you're not gonna die, you're not gonna have to go to the hospital, but you can still spread this."
The CDC said current research suggests the COVID-19 vaccines will offer you antibody protection against all three variants.
For more information from the CDC about the COVID-19 variants, click here.