Updated: Jan. 10, 10:15 a.m. | Posted: Jan. 9, 7:14 p.m.
The Minnesota Department of Health announced Saturday night that it has confirmed five cases of the new, more-contagious coronavirus variant in the Twin Cities metro area.
The variant was first detected in the United Kingdom and has since been confirmed in several other U.S. states. It has not been found to cause more-serious cases of COVID-19.
"We were expecting to find the virus in Minnesota. Knowing that it is now here does not change our current public health recommendations,” state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said in a news release announcing the first confirmed cases in Minnesota.
The Health Department said the five cases come from four different counties in the metro area — Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Carver. But the variant was found by sampling recent COVID-19 specimens, and health officials say that means there likely are cases in other counties, too — so Minnesotans should assume the variant is circulating among coronavirus cases in their community.
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The five confirmed cases involved people ages 15 to 37. The onset of their illnesses was between Dec. 16 and Dec. 31.
Health officials said they are not aware of any of the five people being hospitalized. Two of the people reported international travel, one did not, and travel histories of the other two are not yet known.
"MDH epidemiologists are re-interviewing the cases to gather more information about how they were likely exposed and who their close contacts were. That investigation is continuing," the Health Department announced.
“The fact that the variant strain is thought to be more contagious, but not more virulent, than the viral strains currently in wide circulation in Minnesota reinforces the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing outside your home and quarantining if you’ve been exposed to a positive case,” state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said in the news release. “This virus makes it really hard for people to know whether they or the person next to them is infected — whether this strain or another strain — so we all need to do our part to protect ourselves and each other."
Ehresmann said preliminary findings show the current COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the variant, which was first detected in the U.K. in September.
Four of the five Minnesota cases were identified by genomic sequencing at the MDH Public Health Laboratory, and the fifth was identified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Whether this new strain infects more people will be determined to a large degree by how rigorously we all practice those protective measures that are so important,” Lynfield said. “Getting as many people vaccinated as possible will also be critical in the control of spread of this variant and the emergence of other variants.”
As of Friday, the CDC reported that variant cases had also been confirmed in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Colorado and California.