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MDH claims it's seeing increase in COVID cases traced to bars, restaurants, sports

The increases were expected with some restrictions being lifted.

It's been nearly a month since Minnesota's COVID-19 mitigation measures allowed bars and restaurants to reopen at a limited indoor capacity, along with youth sports getting back into action with mandatory masks for all participants. 

And according to the Minnesota Department of Health, there is once again an increasing number of COVID-19 cases that are being traced to bars, restaurants and youth sports since some of the restrictions were lifted in early January. 

Kris Ehresmann, director of MDH's infectious disease branch, said it takes time to identified and trace cases, but there is already data to show that some bars and restaurants with their second COVID-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began. 

"The same is true with youth sports," said Ehresmann. 

Increases in cases linked to those establishments and activities is expected with the loosening of restrictions, and Ehresmann did not say how many cases the state has seen since the mitigation measures were relaxed. 

Asked during the Monday press call if the state is considering lifting the mask mandate for high-intensity sports like hockey and basketball, Ehresmann said that discussion is not happening at this point. 

"Hockey is one of the sports that has had the most documented data about transmission associated with it, so that is info that is always something that we are thinking about as we make recommendations," she said. 

"The perspective is that [masks] is intended to reduce the opportunity for transmission, so that is something that we're anticipating will be necessary in order to keep moving forward with youth sports that everyone is excited about."

Restrictions were loosened for bars, restaurants, places of entertainment and youth sports in early January as cases and hospitalizations subsided following a November surge. Case levels continue to lower in Minnesota, though there are concerns that the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant (United Kingdom), and possibly the P.1 variant (Brazil) will lead to a spike in the coming weeks and months. 

Both variants have been confirmed in Minnesota. 

"We want to make sure that we're keeping the backdrop that we have had a number of COVID variants of concern that have been identified in Minnesota," said Ehresmann. 

"The sheer fact that they could impact how effective the vaccine is and many other things means that although our case numbers are down, that doesn't mean that we're feeling comfortable ... and we can open everything up."

University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm was a guest on Meet the Press on Sunday and he reiterated what he said in his podcast that he's confident the U.S. will have a major surge of the B.1.1.7 variant in the next 6-14 weeks. 

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