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Doctors think Florida has more COVID-19 variant cases than we know of

The new COVID-19 variants are more contagious than the original, but vaccines still offer protection.

TAMPA, Fla. — There are two known COVID-19 variants spreading in the United States, including here in Florida, right now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Florida has nearly half of the known cases in the U.S. of a mutated and likely more contagious variant of the coronavirus. 

The CDC says Florida now has 22 cases of that mutated virus. California has 26 cases, Colorado has two and New York and Georgia have each reported one case of the new variant.

Colorado was the first state to confirm a case of the new variant in the U.S. but some experts believe it was here sooner.

"It arose in the U.K., maybe September, and it's probably been here in Florida since November," said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist at USF Health. The reason he says that is because the first case of the variant, found in Martin County, was found in a man with no history of travel, meaning his case was community spread. 

Since it was spread within the community, it means it's likely been in the area for months.

RELATED: 'You're either going to get COVID or you're going to get a vaccine': Doctors urge vaccination

The issue with this new variant that experts believe is more contagious is the fact that we can't test for it on a wide scale. The tests being used at local testing centers like Raymond James Stadium and Tropicana Field aren't testing for new mutations. 

"The only real way to identify the U.K. strain is to completely sequence the genome...A typical COVID test does not detect these different variants," Teng says.

That means people who may be symptomatic and get tested for the virus at a local test site may get a negative test. Since they believe they don't have the virus, they'll continue to work or see friends or family and go out into the community, risking spread to even more people. 

Although local labs will start testing for these variants to track the spread of the virus's mutations, there's no widely available test for the public to access. This means we need to continue to be vigilant, continue to social distance, wear masks and wash our hands often.

RELATED: New study shows Pfizer vaccine works on coronavirus variants

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