Continuing social distancing and wearing face masks, officials said, could help limit the spread of the new and more contagious virus. It can also help prevent other mutations from occurring, according to Minnesota Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield.
“Viruses continue to evolve, as all viruses do when they replicate in humans. So, that’s another reason why it’s so important to limit the transmission of COVID-19, ” Lynfield told reporters by phone with the media Tuesday. “The fewer people who are infected with this virus, the less chance they have of developing.”
Officials’ calls to adhere to public health guidelines come just one day after the first US case of COVID-19 linked to a Brazilian variant was discovered in Minnesota. It was discovered through randomized screening of COVID-19 disease test samples taken in the state.
The mutations were found in samples taken from individuals in the Twin Cities area who, according to the state health department, recently traveled to Brazil. Although it is believed to be more contagious, officials do not yet know whether the variant causes more severe disease.
“Good news,” State Health Department Assistant Lab Director Sara Vetter said on Tuesday’s call that “based on what we know so far, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will still have virus-fighting properties.”
Pfizer and Moderna are two drug makers whose vaccines for COVID-19 are being used across the country.
The COVID-19 variant from Brazil is the second found in Minnesota so far. Another variant first identified in Britain is confirmed to have landed in the state in early January.
Eight cases related to the British variant have been documented in Minnesota, all in the metro area. The most recently identified case was identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People who have recently tested positive for the British strain previously traveled to California and the Dominican Republic, according to the state health department. Public health laboratories in Minnesota are monitoring the presence of a variant first discovered in California and South Africa as well, officials said Tuesday.
Lynfield said the association of the new strain with travel shows the importance of avoiding it amid a pandemic. He said to follow health recommendations if travel is unavoidable, whether national or international, such as using COVID-19 before leaving and after returning to Minnesota.
Quarantine after returning from travel is also recommended.
Minnesotans sign up for vaccinations
The state health department also reported administering an additional 17,636 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of the 67,567 newly reported people in the state so far have received the two doses of the vaccine needed, access is growing. About 284,400 people have received at least one dose.
About 180,000 Minnesot’s parents as of Tuesday could once again register to make an appointment at a so-called community vaccination clinic, according to Minnesota IT Services. Unlike last week, when the clinic was first announced and opened, the elderly had to pre-register for a random chance to be scheduled to make an appointment rather than being able to make one on a first come first served basis.
Educators, school staff members and child care workers, who are also intended to be served by the clinic, are told by their employers when they can visit the clinic, which does not receive in-person visits.
Meanwhile, Minnesot residents aged 65 and over are encouraged to pre-register online at mn.gov/findmyvaccine. Pre-registration can also be made by telephone by calling 833-431-2053. The re-registration window will close for this week at 5am Wednesday, January 27th.
Anyone not selected to make an appointment will be automatically put on the waiting list for next week’s clinic appointment.
About 8,000 doses of vaccine this week will be set aside for the clinic, which will be open Thursday through Saturday, January 28-30. An additional 15,000 doses are being stored for a mass vaccination clinic to be held at Xcel Energy Center this week with a focus on teachers in the Twin Cities area, school staff members and child care workers.
Plans to give more doses to other segments of the Minnesota population are contingent on wider vaccine availability. About 60,000 doses are delivered to the state each week, most of which are still reserved for health workers and nursing home residents who are the initial group health officials prioritize for vaccination.
The Office of Governor Tim Walz said late Tuesday that an additional 11,000 doses of vaccine will be sent to Minnesota each week for at least the next three weeks. It is part of President Joe Biden’s recently announced move to ask the federal government to supplement states with more doses during that time.
Based on numbers
Minnesota Tuesday reported an additional 727 cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections reported since the coronavirus pandemic started to be 456,490. State Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said it was the lowest one-day total for newly reported infections Minnesota has seen since late September 22.
“That reflects how far we have been up and down since late September,” he said, referring to the surge in infections that Minnesota saw in November.
The growth rate for COVID-19 cases, which is measured on a weekly basis, fell slightly to 1.8%. Testing rates have remained steady, according to Malcolm, and the percentage of tests that come back positive – based on a rolling seven-day average – is at 5.1%.
Eight additional deaths attributed to the disease were also reported, all but two of them in the Twin Cities area. In total, 6,106 people have been reported to have died from COVID-19 so far in Minnesota.
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- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Hotline: 651-201-3920.
- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota COVID-19 Department of Health website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Website.
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