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New COVID-19 variant ‘circulating’ in Minnesota

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Minn. (KTTC) -- The Minnesota Department of Health says a new COVID-19 variant is “circulating” in the state after five confirmed cases were found in four Twin Cities' metro counties (Carver, Dakota, Hennepin and Ramsey.)

Minnesota joins at least eight other states who have also detected this variant.

Health experts say the B117 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, is more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, or COVID-19. They say the symptoms though, are not as severe.

The Minnesotans who tested positive range in age from 15 to 37 years old. None have been hospitalized, and travel varied. Two had traveled internationally, the others did not. Also, two of the people infected with the new strain reside in the same household.

"We've been looking for this, so we know it's circulating in multiple places," said MDH infectious disease expert Kris Ehresmann.

It's unclear if the younger population is more susceptible to the strain.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm informed the public MDH expects cases to go back up in Minnesota, and a strain that is more contagious only will inflate those numbers.

"We do expect, just as we have seen the patterns, we do expect to see cases go back up in Minnesota following the year-end holidays, and the winter lagging on," Commissioner Malcolm said.

The COVID-19 vaccine also could be impacted by this new strain. Right now there is no certainty how long the vaccine lasts. It could end up like the flu shot, something you need every year.

"At this point, we don't know the duration of protection for the COVID-19 vaccine," Ehresmann said.

While lab experts and health officials continue to monitor this, both the new strain and the vaccine, Malcolm reiterates the importance of COVID-19 protocols, especially after the finding of the new strain.

"This is one more underscoring of the critical importance of continuing those good prevention practices to keep this from undoing all the progress we have been making in the recent weeks,” she said.

Kamie Roesler

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