A new mutation of the highly contagious Brazilian COVID-19 variant has emerged in Florida, health officials said.
The newest variant, dubbed P2 or P.1.1, has a slightly different sequence than Brazil’s P1 strain, which has been found to be more likely to reinfect people who have already had the virus, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
The variant has been detected in a 74-year-old man in Broward County and a 51-year-old woman in Duval County, according to the state Department of Health.
Scientists are monitoring the variant to determine how easily it spreads and whether it behaves similarly to the P1 strain.
"We have just two cases in Florida that have the extra mutation, and what that means remains to be seen," Marco Salemi of the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute told the newspaper. "If in a month from now we go from two cases to 500, that will be concerning."
It’s possible that the mutations could make the new variant even more dangerous.
"We don’t know if new mutations are going to make current variants more or less aggressive, which is why we have people around the world actively monitoring them," Salemi said.
The discovery comes as Florida leads the nation for most cases caused by variants.
The state health department said that it had recorded more than 11,800 cases of "variants of concern" on Wednesday, more than double the number two weeks ago.
"It’s a big concern," Dr. Olayemi Osiyemi, an infectious disease expert in West Palm Beach, told CBS12. "It’s like when you take three steps forward, then all of a sudden you have to take two steps back."