A masked family walks through Universal CityWalk on June 14, 2022, in Orlando, Florida.

A masked family walks through Universal CityWalk on June 14, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — The newest COVID-19 variant, already dominant in four states, has found its way into Florida and is quickly becoming a larger percentage of new cases.

As of Friday, BA.4.6 is responsible for about 10% of all cases of COVID-19 in Florida, according to Helix, which sequences positive test samples. It had only been responsible for about 2% just three weeks ago.

The newest subvariant has actually been "circulating for several weeks" in the U.S. and was designated by the CDC as a "variant of concern" for greater transmissibility, reduced effectiveness of treatment, increased severity, or decreased neutralization by antibodies. BA.4.6 has become the dominant COVID variant in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers are working to determine if BA.4.6 — a mutation of omicron variant BA.4 — is more contagious. It has become the second most prevalent variant in the Southern region.

"BA.4.6 is currently the only other variant in the U.S. besides BA.5 that has appreciable growth," said Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, on Twitter.

Experts say it is important to do everything you can to prevent getting infected. As COVID continues to circulate, it gives the virus another opportunity to mutate and adapt to vaccines and immunities.

Meanwhile, the highly contagious BA.5 subvariant still makes up about 80% of all cases in the U.S. and in Florida. Any subvariant that starts with the letter B is a mutation of the omicron variant.

Florida health officials reported 54,353 new cases for the week ending Aug. 11, a dip from 65,665 new cases the week prior. However, many Floridians are self-testing at home and choosing not to report results to the state. The 65-and-older age group reported the most new cases for the week.

Statewide test positivity is still at a high level: 18.4%. That does represent a slight drop from 19.4% a week earlier.

In South Florida, the positivity rate in Broward is 15.2%, Palm Beach is 19.2% and Miami-Dade is 14.9%.

The death toll from COVID in Florida is now up to 78,559, which includes 994 additional deaths from the disease during the past two weeks. Overall, 11,083 people have died from COVID-19 in 2022.

As of Friday, 72% of Florida's population of 22 million people who are 6 months or older are vaccinated with at least one dose. More than 30,000 people received a booster dose in the past week.


©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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