ST. PAUL -- Five people in the metro area have the variant strain of COVID-19, the state department of health announced Saturday.
The new variant strain was first discovered in the United Kingdom in September and has already been found in eight U.S. states.
On Saturday, the Minnesota Department of Health said that five people in four metro counties have tested positive for the strain. Four of the cases were identified through the department of health laboratories and one through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The health department did not specify which metro counties the variant strain has been found in.
The five people range in age from 15 to 37 and were ill in dates ranging from Dec. 16, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020. None of the five individuals were hospitalized. Two of the people reported international travel. One didn’t travel. The department of health didn’t know whether the other two had traveled recently.
Epidemiologists are still gathering more information about how they were possibly exposed and with whom they’ve been in contact.
“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,” state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said. “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 noted that with the type of virus that COVID-19 is, it’s not unexpected to see “new, more successful strains emerge.”
However, because it is thought to be more contagious, it reinforces the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing and quarantining if someone is exposed to someone who has the virus, said Kris Ehresmann, the state health department’s director of infectious disease.
“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.
The good news, Ehresmann said, is that preliminary studies have indicated the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are effective against the variant strain.
It’s unclear what impact the variant will have, but getting as many people vaccinated as possible will be critical to control the spread of this variant and the emergence of other variants, Lynfield said.
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.
According to the CDC, 63 cases of this variant strain have been identified in eight U.S. states.