STATEWIDE — The state of Florida remains number one in reported COVID-19 variant cases.  And now, medical leaders are warning about what these variants mean for children. 

What You Need To Know

  • Health report says COVID variant is more contagious than original virus

  • Doctor says he is re-evaluating advice about sending kids back to school

  • Florida leads the nation in cases of this B.1.1.7 variant

Doctors are warning that specifically with the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the UK, children could play a major role in the rate of transmission. 

A report out of the National Institutes of Health stated it is “considerably more contagious” than the original virus, with evidence showing an increased risk of severe illness and death. 

"Please understand, this B.1.1.7 variant is a brand new ball game," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist. 

Osterholm said this variant is making him re-evaluate his own advice about sending kids back to school. In Florida, thousands of students have been back in the classroom since last fall. 

Nationally, more and more young people are being hospitalized as cases of this new variant rise. And Osterholm said, "kids now are really major challenges in terms of how they transmit."

"It infects kids very readily. Unlike previous strains of the virus, we didn't see children under 8th grade get infected often or they were not frequently very ill, they didn't transmit to the rest of the community," Osterholm said. 

That is especially concerning here in the Sunshine State as Florida leads the nation in cases of this B.1.1.7 variant, with more than 2,300 cases reported. Data from the CDC shows one in five cases of this variant are reported here in Florida. 

Dr. Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at University of South Florida’s College of Public Health, said tourism is likely behind the state’s high variant case count, citing the governor’s “open for business policy.” 

The state has not been locked down for months now from visitors coming in from around the country to hit the beaches or visit theme parks in Central Florida. Because of that, Salemi said if a variant does emerge elsewhere, people are more likely to bring it here.

Doctors are stressing that getting vaccinated is the best chance at stopping the spread of both COVID-19 and these new variants. 

While none of the three vaccines have been approved by the FDA for use in children under the age of 16, studies are being done currently to see if any of them could be safe for kids.​