‘Centaurus’ COVID subvariant makes its way into Florida while sister mutation spreads throughout Southeast

Female researcher looks through microscope to find Covid subvariants, such as centaurus – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by SmartPhotoLab

The Sunshine State’s official COVID-19 counts continued to decrease for the sixth straight week, but some of its biggest urban regions have reported an uptick in infections as additional viral mutations enter the state.

Loads of viral mutations are once again rising in the Orlando, Miami, and Tampa Bay areas. In addition, recent COVID-19 tests reveal another potentially hazardous subvariant, BA.2.75, also known as “centaurus,” has been lingering in Florida since mid-August. In worse news, the BA.4.6 subvariant continues to cover ground across the southeastern United States.

Coronavirus particles discovered in wastewater from Orange County, Orlando, have almost doubled in the past two weeks to about 1,677 viral parts per milliliter. It is the highest level since July 27, Boston-based laboratory Biobot analytics reported on Wednesday.

In Pinellas County, home to St. Petersburg, viral amounts in sewage have also doubled in the same time frame. In Florida’s most populated county, Miami-Dade, viral counts in wastewater samples have increased by 32 percent.

Wastewater can show COVID trends much faster than official case counts. Those who are infected often shade the largest amount of virus at the start of their infection. It usually takes around two days for locals to send Biobot sewage samples and conclude results. Nasal swab test results take a greater amount of time to enter official statistics, and with the increase of at-home testing, government data loses access to an untold number of cases.

COVID-19 tests conducted in August in Florida confirmed that the BA.2.75 omicron subvariant, which spurred a recent surge of infections in India, is spread among people in the state.

Six Floridians tested positive for the subvariant between Aug. 14 and 30, according to results from Helix Laboratories and LabCorp. The companies transferred those results to GISAID last week. GISAID is a worldwide initiative that collects COVID test results.

Similar to the United States, India experienced a summer COVID wave of viral infections and hospitalizations that was lighter than the large spikes caused by the original delta variant and omicron strain.

So how infectious are the new strains?

Scientists still do not fully understand how infectious BA.2.75 is to those who have previously caught the BA.4 or BA.5 strains, which took over Florida and the United States this past summer.

The most recent coronavirus vaccines, which were given federal approval two weeks ago, target BA.4 and BA.5, but are still somewhat useful against the centaurus subvariant.

While BA.4 and BA.5 swept the country over the summer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that unvaccinated people’s death rates were more than five times greater than those who had received doses made for the original Wuhan strain. The new boosters go after the viral variation that is closest to BA.2.75, BA.4.6, and other omicron subvariants.

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