The Minnesota Department of Health announced on Saturday, Jan. 9, that the new variant strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus first detected in the United Kingdom was identified by genomic sequencing in positive specimens from five residents of four different counties in the Twin Cities metro area. Four of the cases were identified through the MDH Public Health Laboratory, and one was identified through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The cases range in age from 15 to 37 years and their illness onsets range from Dec. 16 to Dec. 31. None has been hospitalized, to MDH’s knowledge. Two cases reported international travel, one did not travel, and the others have unknown travel history.
“It’s important to note that this variant strain of the virus has been found in other states in the U.S., so we were expecting to find the virus in Minnesota. Knowing that it is now here does not change our current public health recommendations,” said State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield.
“While it is thought to be more easily spread from one person to another, it has not been found to cause more serious disease,” Lynfield said. “With RNA viruses, like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, it is not unexpected to see new, more successful strains emerge.”
The good news, MDH Director of Infectious Disease Kris Ehresmann said, is that preliminary studies have indicated the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are effective against the variant strain.
Health officials said it is still too early to know what kind of impact this variant strain may have in the state, but MDH epidemiologists are looking into that.
“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.”