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Outbreaks of COVID variant now in four Minnesota counties

Temporary testing centers have been launched in the areas.

Minnesota is now seeing outbreaks of the U.K. variant of COVID-19 in four counties, health officials announced on Friday.

Minnesota Department of Health Director of Infectious Diseases Kris Ehresmann says multiple cases of the B.1.1.7. variant have now been found in Scott County, Blue Earth County, and an area of St. Louis County near Aurora in the Iron Range.

That's in addition to Carver County, which has already seen dozens of variant cases in recent weeks, the spread of which contact tracing has linked back to youth sports and recreation.

MDH has said a 2-day COVID testing event will be held at the Aurora Community Center Monday and Tuesday, while it has selected Mankato – in Blue Earth County – as the location for its 7th permanent community vaccination site.

Scientists say the U.K. variant of SARS-CoV-2 may be up to 70% more contagious than the most common strain of the virus, and a study has suggested that it's potentially more deadly too.

The Star Tribune on Sunday revealed how MDH mapped the outbreak in Carver County, showing how the variant was transmitted quickly through sports teams and schools, revealing that an outbreak of at least 12 infections at an elementary school was tied to one individual to a sports team with five infections.

Its rise in Minnesota has coincided with the state's COVID-19 cases ticking up again in recent weeks, having previously dropped steadily since the peak in late November.

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Hospitalizations have also been rising, with 316 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Mar. 18, a rise of more than 100 on the recent low of 210 on Mar. 6.

It has sparked concern among health officials who fear another significant rise in cases before the bulk of Minnesota's population has been vaccinated.

Ehresmann described the state as being in a "race between the variants and the vaccine." Cases of the South African and Brazilian variants have also been confirmed in Minnesota.

All three of the vaccines currently available in the U.S. right now, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, are believed to retain their effectiveness against the U.K. variant, though the early results are mixed for the South African and Brazilian variants.

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