By next month, the U.K. strain of COVID-19 may be the predominant version of the virus circulating across the country according to modeling from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Already, there are dozens of cases in South Florida — a hotspot for mutation — even as it is unclear just how common this more contagious version of the virus is here.
"We don't know a real prevalence rate yet," said University of Miami clinical pathologist Dr. David Andrews.
We spoke about the new strain and the state of enforcement of safety protocols on this program. Later on, we discussed efforts to remake the reputation of South Beach and the pledge of more police on the streets over the weekend.
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COVID-19 Variants And Varied Enforcement Of Safety Protocols
The mutated strain of COVID-19 first found in the U.K. comes to South Florida as the daily infection rates are just below 10% in the region's counties, and the number of people getting their first dose of a vaccine continues falling compared to a week ago.
Through Wednesday of this week, only half the number of people in South Florida received their first dose compared to the previous week. Fewer than 50,000 first doses were given according to state data.
"We are seeing it and we are seeing an increase," said Andrews about the U.K. strain in South Florida. "That's where we stand right now."
The mutation is more contagious, and scientists need more data to determine who widespread it is. Andrews said current COVID-19 tests can pick up the strain, but "we're not really at the level where we can do a test and instantly say, 'Well, you're carrying this strain or that strain.'"
There is a lot still to learn about COVID-19 and the new strains that have appeared. In addition to the U.K. strain, there are mutations named for where they were first seen: South Africa and Brazil.
So far, according to Andrews, the current vaccines offer at least some level of protection.
"The data is so far encouraging and that it provides partial protection," he said.
So far, there are no changes to the recommended safety precautions despite the higher contagious nature of the new strain.
"What is needed is more attention to the guidelines that are already in place — rigorous attention to wearing masks and attention to distancing," he said.
Tens of thousands of complaints have been made over the past several months against restaurants, stores and homes for not following COVID-19 safety guidelines: People not wearing masks. People too close to one another. Too many people gathered.
All may be violations of the rules in place to try to slow the spread of the virus.
"The complaints are typically for restaurants not enforcing the county facial covering mandate," said Palm Beach County code enforcement officer Richard Padgett.
The county's dashboard indicates almost 11,000 complaints have been filed — seventy eight notices of violation have been issued.
"The goal of the COVID education compliance team is predominantly to provide education," Padgett said. "Our goal is not to shut down businesses or interrupting business. We're seeking voluntary compliance with the facial covering order."
Richard said 15 code enforcement officers in Palm Beach County are dedicated to the COVID-19 team at night and on weekends when restaurants and bars are active.
Broward County Mayor Steve Geller points to Gov. Ron DeSantis' decision to strip local governments from being able to collect fines for safety protocol violations as sending the wrong message to the public about the rules.
"Theoretically, once the pandemic is over, we can try and enforce those citations, but without any ability to collect people think we never are going to," Geller said.
In addition, Geller said local city officials in Broward County are choosing to go a step further and not issue citations for violations.
"We have been in this crisis for a year. Everybody knows by now what they're supposed to do. Some people choose not to. I don't think warnings work any more. I think that if they closed down a few businesses, the others will comply," he said.
Remaking South Beach's Reputation
This week, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber repeated his call that "the entertainment district has to go." He's referring to South Beach. His sentiment came after the armed robbery of a tourist and a shooting that left three people hurt last week.
"Over the course of the pandemic it has only gotten worse as it seems we are only becoming more of a magnet for people who come here with bad intentions," he said in a video statement on Monday.
This weekend more police are expected to be patrolling the streets of South Beach. The stepped-up law enforcement comes as the city commission has been stepping up restrictions on loud music and sidewalk cafes.
Miami-Dade County police will join more Miami Beach police in the neighborhood, some working longer shifts.
"We're going to really try to have as much of a show of police as we can in this area," the mayor told the South Florida Roundup Friday.
In December and January, a pilot program put more police in South Beach which led to hundreds of arrests and police seizing almost two dozen guns.
"The only way we're going to be able to to survive in this thing is if we really do flood [the area] with police. But that can't be the long term answer, because if all we ever do is chasing bad guys in our entertainment district, then something's terribly wrong there," Gelber said.
The city commission has taken steps such as banning loud music after 2 a.m. and putting more rules in place for outdoor drinking and dining areas.
Gelber said, "there's a business model that caters to the lowest common denominator that likes big crowds, big drinks." He continued, "the truth is we want operators who would love a better experience."
"It's not a code word," he added.