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MDH says Carver County COVID outbreak threatens state's progress

State health officials are concerned about the cluster in the southwest metro.

State health leaders say that the COVID-19 outbreak in Carver County that includes the highly contagious U.K. strain is a threat to the progress Minnesota has been making at reducing the virus' spread.

The state recommended a two-week shutdown of youth sports in the southwest Twin Cities county starting last Monday, after a cluster of 140 cases were linked back to sports and recreation pursuits. Of these cases, 32 were later confirmed to be of the more contagious B.1.1.7. U.K. variant of the virus, and 67 tests are still pending.

Thus far, more than 250 cases of the U.K. variant have been confirmed statewide, leading to 12 hospitalizations and two deaths, but there is likely to be a much larger number of cases of B.1.1.7 active right now, given the limitations on genetic sequencing to confirm the variants.

Minnesota has seen an uptick in active COVID-19 cases over the past week, though the state is still in a good position compared to the peaks seen in November and December, and the state is now vaccinating around 40,000 people a day now, with MPR News reporting this is expected to rise in the coming weeks as federal supplies increase.

Nonetheless, the outbreak in Carver County is causing sufficient concern among MDH officials that they are urging Minnesotans to be extra vigilant in their efforts to limit the spread of the disease while the vaccine program continues its rollout.

“We are very concerned about this (U.K.) variant and its rapid spread. It has the potential to be a setback to our hard-fought progress against the disease,” Dan Huff, an assistant health commissioner, told reporters Monday.

"We’re so close to the light at the end of the tunnel …. but this thing’s not over," he added.

Huff said that so far the state has been getting support from sports teams in Carver County in limiting interactions.

"The goal is to stop this variant from going from person to person, and that's what's happening right now in Carver County," he said, encouraging youth sports teams to stop team dinners, sleepovers and to "limit every possible interaction that we can" while also testing as much as possible. 

As well as being over two times more contagious than the original strain of the virus that emerged last year, studies in the U.K. suggest it also has the potential of causing more severe disease, and the longer the. virus circulates the more chances there are there will be further mutation.

One positive thing to note though is that the current crop of vaccines have been found to be effective against the U.K. variant, more so than against variants from South Africa and Brazil.

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Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says it's vital for state residents to get vaccinated as soon as they're able to, noting on Monday that some people due to have their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines haven't been getting them.

"More cases are a problem in the sense that the more cases that are out there the more this virus replicates, the more chance there is for additional variants. It does remain a statewide, nationwide and global imperative to keep the case growth under control so we don't keep fueling these variants," said Malcolm. 

"As there's lots of reasons to indicate that we are making good progress, we still have these vulnerabilities. we know that as we increase our interactions, those prevention measures are very important," she added.

"The governor has opened up the roads, but the governor didn't say drive 70 mph without your seatbelt," Huff said. "We still have to be smart so we can keep this progress going." 

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