Stock COVID 3

The Minnesota Department of Health's testing lab handles samples of COVID-19.

The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — A Faribault County resident in their early 80s and a Sibley County resident in their late 90s made up two of Minnesota’s 44 people who died from the COVID-19 virus Sunday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Meanwhile, newly confirmed regional cases dropped to 47 — the lowest daily tally since Dec. 28.

Brown County had the most for the nine-county region, with 12 newly confirmed cases, followed by eight in Martin County, six cases each in Blue Earth and Sibley counties, and five in Nicollet County.

Faribault and Le Sueur counties had four new cases each, Waseca County had two and Watonwan County reported no additional cases.

Statewide cases grew by 2,165 Sunday, bringing Minnesota’s case total to 436,572.

A total of 22,763 health care workers have tested positive in the state since the pandemic began, with 33,921 Minnesotans requiring hospitalization for the virus.

Sunday’s totals followed a Minnesota Department of Health announcement 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.

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 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.

The five confirmed cases involved people ages 15 to 37. The onset of their illnesses was between Dec. 16 and Dec. 31. Authorities did not name the four counties.

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.”

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.”

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.

As of Friday, the CDC reported that variant cases had also been confirmed in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Colorado and California.

Dan Greenwood is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at dgreenwood@mankatofreepress.com

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