First Orange County resident with UK COVID-19 variant detected

Person contracted the strain during a trip to Mexico, Dr. Raul Pino says

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The first case of an Orange County resident with the U.K. COVID-19 variant, B1.1.7, has now been detected.

Dr. Raul Pino, with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, announced the recent infection during a news briefing on Thursday.

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“It was acquired in Mexico, probably, during a trip,” said Pino. “And we have traced and investigated some of the individuals on the trip, and some are out of state as well.”

Pino added that, while only one case in a resident has been confirmed, “it’s safe to assume all along [the variant] has been here.”

While this is the first resident to have a confirmed case of the disease, the U.K. variant has previously been detected in Orange County.

Last week, Pino announced that two visitors to the county had also tested positive for the B.1.1.7 variant, one from Seminole County and another from Broward County.

Pino did point to the spread of the variants as a cause for concern when it comes to the speed at which vaccines are being distributed.

“We have to hurry and get vaccinated so that any future mutations of the virus do not affect the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Pino said.

Right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case, Pino said, but this isn’t the only genetic modification of the virus.

Also on Thursday, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings touted the county’s vaccination efforts. Demings said that 6.1% of the county’s population, 91,331 individuals, had already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 1.8%, 27,373 individuals, had received both shots. However, he admitted there is still a long way to go.

“That means that we have about 98.2%, that still need to receive the vaccine in our community. So I look forward to being engaged with the media, our other community partners to ensure that we get to that number sooner than later,” Demings said.

Demings also praised Orange County Fire Rescue for setting up mobile vaccination sites at 12 senior living communities and houses of worship.

“So far the paramedics have vaccinated 2,675 seniors who are unable to get to the convention center,” Demings said.

The Orange County Convention Center remains open for vaccinations as well, 12 hours a day, Monday through Saturday. Demings said the county is prepared to provide many more vaccinations than it is currently doing.

“If vaccine is made available, we will be able to disseminate that vaccine and get it in the arms of human being very quickly. So we’re only limited today by the inventory that’s available,” Demings said.

The mayor expressed optimism in federal efforts to roll out more doses of a vaccine and said that he is communicating with the state to ensure that Orange County receives more inventory when it becomes available.

“You have heard the President say that they will be rolling out hundreds of millions of doses within the United States and I’m confident that as a metropolitan area, our goal is to get our fair share,” Demings said. “So my communications with the state is just that. And we want to ensure that once we get additional inventory that it is equitable that all people have access to it.”

Pino added that, between the county’s vaccine site at the convention center and AdventHealth’s vaccine efforts, the capacity exists to do about 5,000 vaccinations a day in Orange County, but the county is limited to an inventory of about 9,000 doses per week.

Both Demings and Pino also talked about the Super Bowl this weekend and its potential for gatherings, both in homes and in businesses, such as bars. Both encouraged people to keep gatherings small and limited to immediate family. Demings also reiterated that the county’s strike teams would be out to enforce the mask mandate.

“However, that does not mean that the bars and nightclubs, can’t operate and do so in a safe manner,” Demings said. “Our goal is to ensure that people can gather and do so safely.”

About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.