ST. PAUL — Minnesota health officials on Tuesday, Jan. 26, advised residents to be cautious about traveling and to keep following public health recommendations now that the COVID-19 mutation first identified in Brazil has been discovered in the state.
Continuing to practice social distancing and wearing face masks, the officials said, could help limit the spread of the new and more transmissible strain. It could also help to prevent another mutation from occurring, according to Minnesota Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield.
"The virus continues to evolve, as all viruses do when they replicate in people. So that is another reason why it is extremely important to limit COVID-19 transmission," Lynfield told reporters on a call with the media Tuesday. "The fewer people who are infected with this virus, the fewer the opportunities it has to evolve."
The officials' call for compliance with public health guidelines came just one day after the first COVID-19 case in the U.S. associated with the Brazil variant was found in Minnesota. It was discovered through the random screening of COVID-19 disease test samples taken in the state.
The mutation was discovered in a sample taken from a Twin Cities-area individual who, according to the state health department, travelled recently to Brazil. While it is believed to be more contagious, officials do not yet know whether the variant causes more severe illness.
"The good news," State Health Department Assistant Lab Director Sara Vetter said on Tuesday's call, is that "based on what we know so far, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will still have efficacy against the virus."
Pfizer and Moderna are the two drug makers whose vaccines for COVID-19 are being deployed across the country.
The COVID-19 variant from Brazil is the second to be discovered in Minnesota so far. Another variant first identified in the United Kingdom was confirmed to have made landfall in the state earlier in January.
Eight cases associated with the U.K. variant have since been documented in Minnesota, all of them in the metro area. The most recently identified case was spotted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The individuals who most recently tested positive for the U.K. strain previously traveled to California and the Dominican Republic, according to the state health department. Public health labs in Minnesota are monitoring for the presence of variants first found in California and South Africa as well, officials said Tuesday.
Lynfield said the new strain's association with travelling demonstrates the importance of avoiding it the middle of a pandemic. She said to follow health recommendations if travel cannot be avoided, whether national or international, such as taking a COVID-19 before leaving and upon returning to Minnesota.
Quarantining after returning from a trip is also recommended.
Minnesotans register for vaccinations
The state health department also Tuesday reported the administering of an additional 17,636 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. A newly reported total of 67,567 people in the state have so far received the requisite two doses of the vaccine, access to which continues expanding. Approximately 284,400 people have received at least one dose.
About 180,000 elderly Minnesotans Tuesday were able to once again sign up for appointments at what are being called community vaccination clinics, according to Minnesota IT Services. Unlike last week, when the clinics were first announced and opened, senior citizens had to pre-register for a random chance to be scheduled for an appointment instead of being able to make one on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Educators, school staff members and child care workers, whom the clinics are also meant to serve, are being notified by their employers as to when they can visit the clinics, which do not accept walk-ins.
Minnesotans aged 65 and older, meanwhile, were encouraged to pre-register online at mn.gov/findmyvaccine. Pre-registrations can also be completed over the phone by calling 833-431-2053. The re-registration window will close for the week at 5 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27.
Anybody not selected for an appointment will automatically be put on a wait list for clinic appointments next week.
About 8,000 doses of the vaccine will this week be set aside for the clinics, which are set to open Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 28-30. An additional 15,000 doses are being conserved for a mass-vaccination clinic to be held at the Xcel Energy Center this week focusing on Twin Cities-area teachers, school staff members and child care workers.
Plans to provide greater numbers of doses to other segments of Minnesota's population hinge on the wider availability of the vaccine. Around 60,000 doses have been sent to the state each week, most of which are still being reserved for the health care workers and nursing home residents who make up the initial group that health officials are prioritizing for vaccination.
Gov. Tim Walz's office said late Tuesday that an additional 11,000 doses of the vaccine will be shipped to Minnesota each week for at least the next three weeks, however. That's part of President Joe Biden's newly announced move to have the federal government furnish states with more doses for that long.
By the numbers
Minnesota Tuesday reported an additional 727 cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections reported since the coronavirus pandemic began to 456,490. State Health Department Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that represents the lowest one-day total for newly reported infections that Minnesota has seen since late Sept. 22
"That reflects how far we came up and down since the end of September," she said, referring to the surge of infections that Minnesota saw in November.
The COVID-19 case growth rate, measured on a weekly basis, decreased slightly to 1.8%. Testing rates remain stable, according to Malcolm, and the percent of tests that come back positive — based on a rolling, seven-day average — stands at 5.1%.
Eight additional deaths attributed to the disease were reported as well, all but two of which occurred in the Twin Cities area. In total, a reported 6,106 people have so far died of COVID-19 in Minnesota.
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- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.