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'It moved fast:' UK variant now causing most COVID-19 cases in Florida, doctor says

The B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant appears more contagious and lethal.

TAMPA, Fla. — After spreading across Florida for two months, variant B.1.1.7 -- originally found in the United Kingdom -- has become dominant in the state.

"About 50-60 percent of the isolates being tested here are this variant. If you come in contact with the person who's got this, you're 50% more likely to be infected. It's also probably maybe 30 to 40% more lethal," said Dr. Tom Unnasch with USF Public Health. 

Data shows Florida has 2,274 cases of the variant. It's spreading the virus quicker than before, and scientists worry cases could go up once again.

This comes as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky worries about a fourth wave nationwide.

"Right now I'm scared. I'm speaking today not necessarily as your CDC Director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer."

RELATED: 'Right now, I'm scared' | CDC director warns of rising COVID cases, hospitalizations

RELATED: Florida 1st in US to surpass 1,000 COVID-19 variant cases

Cases nationally are up more than 10 percent with hospitalizations on the rise.

"We are not out of the woods. We have to give the vaccination time to ramp up," USF Mathematical Modeler Dr. Edwin Michael said. 

The scientist says allowing highly contagious variants to spread in the state could make things even more dangerous.

"A new mutant might come up, and if that mutant will actually impede the immunity, which is being raised by the current vaccine, then we are in big trouble. Then we're back to square one, because even people who are vaccinated may not be as protected," Michael said.

But doctors say we can stop a new mutation from forming with masks and social distancing.

"We're the ones in control of this entire situation. If everybody continues to cooperate for another six weeks, I think we can make this a bad memory. Otherwise, it may just be an ongoing nightmare," Unnasch said.

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