Florida has nearly half of known US cases of COVID variant

Coronavirus

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — New data from the Centers for Disease Control shows Florida has nearly half the known cases in the United States of a mutated and likely more contagious strain of the coronavirus. The development came Friday as Florida reported nearly 20,000 more cases in a single day.

CDC map shows that Florida had 22 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant that emerged in Britain. It showed other cases in California, which has reported 26 cases, Colorado with two, and New York and Georgia each with one reported case.

Statistics from the Florida Department of Health showed Friday’s total of new coronavirus cases — 19,530 — almost reached the previous day’s record of 19,816 new daily cases.

Florida’s death toll from the virus also keeps climbing, reaching 23,011 deaths on Friday.

Since the pandemic began in March, about 1.4 million people in Florida have contracted COVID. Early Friday, 7,329 people in Florida were hospitalized with the virus.

People 65 and older who are eager for the COVID-19 vaccine have swamped online registration sites in some counties across Florida.

Florida followed federal recommendations for rolling out the first vaccinations in mid-December to front-line medical workers and the residents and staff of nursing homes. But instead of putting essential workers and people over 75 next in line, as federal recommendations suggested, or fully completing the first group of recipients, Gov. Ron DeSantis moved in late December to open up vaccinations more broadly to those 65 and over.

So far, 443,616 people, or about 2% of the state’s population, have received a COVID vaccine in Florida, with the overwhelming majority receiving the first dose.

“As hospitals have gotten through their workers, what you’re now seeing is hospitals being more aggressive to our senior citizens. That’s our top priority at this point,” DeSantis said during a news conference Thursday.

On Friday, federal lawmakers from Florida asked DeSantis to provide them with more answers about how the vaccines were being distributed. A bipartisan coalition of more than a dozen U.S. representatives said in a letter to the governor that they had received questions from their constituents about the order in which vaccines were being administered and the schedule for continuing the rollout.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott also sent a letter to Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees on Friday asking how Florida health officials were identifying people over age 65 who qualify for the vaccine and whether Florida residents were being prioritized over snowbirds — those coming to the state in the winter months.

Sen. Scott said he wanted to know when the general public would start getting vaccinated and how information was being relayed about where residents over age 65 could get the vaccine.

“I am hearing from constituents who are having trouble getting information about the vaccine in their communities,” Sen. Scott said. “Many are unable to register through provided phone lines or websites, and are faced with extremely long lines to get the vaccine.”

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