STUART, Fla. — Officials are not ruling out that there could be more cases of a new coronavirus strain found this week in Martin County.
State and local leaders from across the Treasure Coast held a nearly hour-long news conference Saturday afternoon in Stuart to discuss the COVID-19 variant, along with efforts to distribute the vaccine to health care workers and seniors.
SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus
The B117 strain, which experts say is more contagious than the more common variant of the coronavirus, was first identified by Florida health officials Thursday night.
State Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City, said Saturday the man who has the new strain is a 23-year-old Martin County resident with no history of travel outside the state or country and is now out of isolation. The man is not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.
Officials did not respond to questions regarding where the man may have visited in the county prior to his diagnosis, saying it was an issue of protecting his privacy.
Carol Ann Vitani, health officer and director of nursing for the Florida Department of Health in Martin County, said Saturday the B117 strain was found through a random sampling surveillance program conducted by the Centers for Disease Control.
Officials said not all PCR tests determine which strain of the coronavirus is present.
Vitani said they have not been notified of any other cases of this variant strain in Florida.
"Now that we know we have the strain here, the CDC, as well as the state Department of Health, will be looking at more samples, in fact, to see if there are additional cases in the area," Overdorf said.
The CDC said there is no evidence that new COVID-19 variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death. Experts have said the vaccines will still be effective against this new strain of the virus.
Overdorf said Saturday that six hospitals in Martin and St. Lucie counties have received shipments of the vaccine, and doses distributed were based on a pro-rated portion of the population.
"In Martin County last week, Martin County received 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, 500 (doses) were transferred to the mobile medical health services, 500 were transferred to Treasure Coast Urgent Care, 120 doses were administered to seniors 65 and older at drive-thrus, an additional 880 doses are being administered through the health department at drive-thru locations by appointment only," Overdorf said.
Currently, all appointments are filled, but the county expects to receive more doses of the vaccine in the next couple of days and weeks.
Vitani said on Dec. 31 alone they had more than 19,000 phone calls inquiring about the vaccine. She said Florida officials are working on a state-wide registration system that hopefully will address many of these issues.
Overdorf said St. Lucie County received 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine last week, with 1,000 of those doses being used to vaccinate seniors.
As of Saturday, 243,107 people in Florida have received the first shot of the vaccine, according to Overdorf, including 1,587 Martin County residents and 2,269 in St. Lucie County.
According to Overdorf, there are more than four million residents in Florida age 65 and older, however, the state has received under one million doses as of Saturday.
"Those doses are administered from the federal government," Overdorf said. "We are doing everything we can to garner more doses for the state of Florida, and I know our governor is working hard to do that as well."
State Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said there are about 130,000 residents in Martin and St. Lucie counties over the age of 65.
"As quickly as it comes in, (the vaccine) will be dispersed," Harrell said.
St. Lucie County residents who want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine are urged to register with Alert St. Lucie to be notified when vaccines are available.
Treasure Coast Urgent Care and Treasure Coast Primary Care is in charge of vaccinating area frontline health care workers and residents over the age of 65.
CEO Rob Gluckman said they currently have a waiting list of about 850 patients over the age of 65 waiting to be vaccinated.
"We do not have sufficient supply at this time to do that. I implore Gov. DeSantis to please release more vaccines sooner than later,” Gluckman said.
Gluckman said they have resources to administer at least 200 vaccines each day.
"If we get the supply, we are willing to go seven days a week until we can exhaust the supply," Gluckman said.