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Coronavirus pandemic enters new phase amid race against dangerous COVID evolution

MIAMI – Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said on Tuesday that he is seeing all of the major metrics used to measure the coronavirus pandemics’ impact going down.

“Hospitalizations hopefully in the next few days will go below 800. At their worst, they were at 2,300,” Suarez said. “They are trending in the right direction.”

Suarez also said it is not a good time to let your guard down when it comes to measures such as social distancing and face mask use. Experts are worried about the pandemic entering a new phase.

“We no longer are dealing with the original COVID,” Miami Commissioner Joe Carrollo said about the dangerous evolution of the virus.

The higher the number of COVID cases the more opportunities the virus has had to replicate and change. If COVID-19 vaccines reduce transmission, the vaccines are also reducing the overall risk of a more devastating COVID variant.

Scientists are tracking the changes causing COVID to act differently. Researchers have detected thousands of variants in circulation around the globe, and doctors have been most worried about the mutations in three variants from the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa.

Experts believe the U.K. variant has an evolutionary advantage making it more contagious and associating it with an increased risk of death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Sunday that Florida continued to be the state with the most confirmed cases of the U.K. variant, also known as the B.1.1.7 variant.

The CDC did not report the precise locations of the 379 cases of the U.K. variant, and the federal agency hasn’t reported any evidence of the other two variants in Florida.

“There’s also the risk that it’s the calm before the storm because as we see many more of these variants mixing in our population the trend could reverse itself,” Suarez said.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious diseases expert with Florida International University, said there are concerns about how COVID is changing as pressure is put on the virus to survive.

Florida is distributing both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna/NIH vaccines, which both require two doses. Experts believe both vaccines work against the U.K. variant. Pfizer requires a delay between shots of 21 days and Moderna of 28 days.

As the vaccine campaign’s shortages continue in Miami-Dade, some experts fear delaying the second dose could risk creating a dangerous environment for the evolution of the virus.

An infection between doses could create the type of pressure that some experts fear would result in the emergence of a devastating COVID mutant.

The clinical trials of the vaccines did not provide data on the possibility of infection between the doses. But during the interval, antibody levels could gradually come down, and the vaccine’s second dose raises antibodies. This could create a chance for COVID to reinvent itself.

“That’s the additional mutation that allows these variants to be what we call escape mutants,” Marty said. “That means, they can escape our prior antibodies.”

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, talked about the risk of COVID escape mutants on Jan. 25 during a panel at the World Economic Forum. An escape mutant could potentially start a new wave of more devastating infections and deaths. Moderna is developing a booster shot to target the new variants.

PROGRESS REPORT

The Florida Department of Health’s vaccination data through Monday showed more than 240,000 people had been vaccinated in Miami-Dade, including more than 130,000 who had completed the series.

The state’s data showed cases were nearing 400,000 in Miami-Dade. The percent of residents who tested positive from Feb. 2 to Monday ranged from 7.93% to 5.94% on Sunday, according to state data.

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