A variant of COVID-19 that first originated in Colombia is now spreading in south Florida, and one health official said the Colombian strain has accounted for about 10% of the positive cases being sequenced at the University of Miami’s pathology lab.
Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health System, told Local 10 News in Miami that the Colombian COVID variant is spreading in south Florida because of international travel between Colombia and Miami. In early August, the state of Florida had more COVID hospitalizations than it did even before vaccines were available.
The World Health Organization has designated the new variant as one that requires “further monitoring,” meaning that the variant could pose significant risk in the future. But the evidence is currently unclear, requiring enhanced monitoring.
Currently labeled as B.1.621, the variant has yet to be given an official name or Greek-letter designation like more prominent variants, such as delta and beta.
The earliest documented samples of B.1.621 were noted in January in Colombia, according to WHO. Since then, at least 16 cases have recently been reported in the United Kingdom, where health experts attribute the majority of cases to international travel.
On July 23, Public Health England stated there was no evidence at the time to indicate that B.1.621 causes more severe disease or decreases the efficacy of COVID vaccines. In the U.S., B.1.621 accounted for 2.4% of cases during the two weeks before July 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker.
The delta variant accounted for just less than 2% of U.S. COVID cases at the beginning of May, but that percentage skyrocketed to above 80% by mid-July.
Preeti N. Malani, chief health officer and a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan, told the Washington Post that it doesn’t take much time for COVID variants to spread, especially among unvaccinated people.
In the U.S., 49.6% of the population is fully vaccinated while 57.7% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends avoiding travel to Colombia, which is labeled as having a “very high” level of COVID-19. If you must travel to Colombia, the CDC says to make sure you are fully vaccinated first. However, because of the current situation in the country, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID variants.
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