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Scientists say there's no need to panic after new COVID-19 variant found in the US

Infectious disease experts at USF Public Health say Pfizer and Moderna's approved vaccines should still be able to fight the virus but may be less efficacious.

TAMPA, Fla — After hearing about the new variant of COVID-19 found in the United Kingdom, scientists at the University of South Florida were confident the strain was already in the United States.

"I mean, invariably. If the virus was detected September 20th, it's invariable, you know, it has spread already to the U.S.," USF Public Health's Dr. Edwin Michael said. 

The mathematical modeler uses models to predict the spread of coronavirus not just in the state but across the country. He said the variant was undetected in the U.S.

"I'm sure the CDC or some other group must be gearing up. Now you know which sequence to look for, so they can look for samples," Michael said.

A little more than a week after the U.K.'s lockdown, the CDC is investigating the U.S.' first case of the COVID-19 mutation in Colorado. Scientists say the new strain is highly contagious because the virus is able to bind to cells in the body easier than before. But we shouldn't panic.

"I would caution everyone to not get super worried about it yet," said Dr. Jill Roberts with USF Public Health said.  

The infectious disease expert says the variant is 56-percent more contagious than other strains, but cases don't seem to be more serious. She believes the new variant has been spreading in the country for about one to two months.

"The takeaway message that we should know is that the coronavirus is continuing to spread significantly because that mutation has been picked up all over the place despite the fact that it probably only occurred in the last month or two. So we know coronavirus still spreading very, very widely," Roberts said. 

While scientists in Colorado continue investigating the new case, doctors aren't surprised the virus has changed. It's normal behavior.

"This is what they do. We have flu shots, seasonal flu shots every year because the virus has mutated. It's changed its, you know, the parts of its protein that are recognized by your immune system. So you need a new flu shot. It's not unusual, even for this virus," Virologist Dr. Michael Teng said.

Teng says our best protection against the virus is a mask.

"We have really good ways of blocking transmission, we just got wear it and wash our hands, and stay away from other people," Teng said.

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