A total of 753 cases of variants of three strains – B.1.1.7, P.1 and B. 18.104.22.168. – were reported on March 14, according to variant infection data shared with ABC News. The Florida Department of Health does not disclose variant cases on its public dashboard.
That number rose to 5,177 cases of five types of variants on April 15. Just two weeks later, the number of variant infections exploded to 9,248 on April 27, according to local ABC affiliate WFTV.
The surge comes on the heels of the spring break celebrations from mid-March through April, when students and vacationers alike flock to the sun.
Florida is home to the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. State health officials on Wednesday reported more than 11,800 cases of COVID-19 variants, according to the Sun Sentinel.
In total, variants have led to the hospitalization of 243 residents and the deaths of 67 people in Florida, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Only 1% of all COVID-19 cases in Florida are tested to study their genetic coding, which means the number of variant infections is likely much higher than reported.
Data regarding the variants was first released on Monday hours after Governor Ron DeSantis announced the lifting of all local COVID-19 restrictions.
The Florida Department of Health released the data as part of a legal settlement with Orlando Sentinel after the newspaper filed a lawsuit in March seeking a breakdown of variant cases by county. A judge ended up agreeing with the newspaper’s claim that the data was vital “to understanding how the virus continues to spread and affect Floridians.”
As vaccinations slow across the country, the threat of highly transmissible variants is causing concern. In Florida, B.1.1.7. variant, which first appeared in the UK in December, accounts for the most variants. There are also several reports on the South African and Brazilian variants.
As of May 1, Miami-Dade County led the state with 2,279 variant cases, followed by Broward County with 1,950 variant cases, the Sun Sentinel reported.
As variants appear to be gaining traction, overall COVID-19 cases in the Sunshine State are slowing. Health officials reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of 4.67% on Friday – the second day in a row it has fallen below 5%, state data showed.
Now, doctors are warning the public to stay alert and get vaccinated to prevent cases from escalating.
Dr Bernard Ashby, a Miami-based cardiologist who has worked on the frontlines of the pandemic, warns of the dangers of variants, especially in populated areas.
“If you look at the distribution of counties, Miami-Dade leads the state in variants followed by Broward County. And we’ve led in infection rates overall, ”Ashby told ABC News. “What is interesting is the degree of domination of the counties… [those counties] essentially account for almost 40% of the variants in the existing state. “
“It’s hard to ignore that we’re basically open for business,” he said, noting DeSantis’ lifting of COVID-19 restrictions this week. “Now we see this little explosion. “