Cases of UK COVID-19 variant found in Carver County, health officials urge shutdown of youth sports for 2 weeks

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A cluster of cases of the COVID-19 variant first found in the United Kingdom has been located in Carver County, and state health officials are recommending actions be taken to stop the variant’s spread.

According to a release from the Minnesota Department of Health, a cluster of cases of the B117 variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the U.K. is growing in Carver County.

Since late January, at least 68 cases of the variant have been linked to participants in school-sponsored and club sports activities including hockey, wrestling, basketball, alpine skiing and other sports. In addition to sports, officials have seen increases in cases in Carver County gyms and fitness centers.

From Feb. 24 to March 4, there was a 62% increase in cases in Carver County, according to MDH.

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"We are making progress in the effort to end this pandemic, but we need all Minnesotans to keep up their guard until the work is done," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. "The variants circulating now present added risk that we may see another surge in cases and we need everyone to do their part to prevent that from happening. That means masking, social distancing, staying home when sick and getting tested when appropriate."

On Saturday, Gov. Tim Walz said he’s keeping a close eye on the spread but remains hopeful as the state reports nearly 55% of Minnesota’s educators, school staff and child care providers have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

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“The best thing is if you can avoid getting a COVID infection — and the way you avoid a covid infection is masking, social distancing, washing your hands, testing and getting your vaccine,” said Walz. "It’s a concern. We’ll keep our eye on it. But at this time, I still remain very optimistic for our potential to keep moving forward.”

To help control the spread, officials are recommending a county-wide pause on youth sports for two weeks, starting on March 8. Because of the risk that the outbreak has spread to other counties, officials are also recommending that youth sports across the state should receive active screening, weekly testing of athletes and coaches, no gatherings before or after games and strict enforcement of proper masking.

Although the county-wide restrictions don’t begin until Monday, some other teams around the state are already pulling out of Carver County athletic games out of an abundance of precaution. It’s upsetting to Carver County parents who wanted their students to get a fair chance over the weekend to play hockey.

“The Minneapolis girls showed up for the junior varsity game at 9 a.m. By 11 o’clock, the varsity girls were actually here, and they took a vote and decided they weren’t comfortable playing our girls … So they decided to forfeit,” said Laura Beise, whose daughter is a student in Carver County. “It’s frustrating to them because we kind of have this black mark on us, when really we’re all in this together.”

Due to the elevated risk in Carver County, officials are recommending additional measures be taken there including schools maintaining hybrid learning with full distancing for secondary students, pausing extracurricular activities where full distancing cannot be maintained and reinforcing mitigation strategies among school communities. Officials also recommend that gyms, fitness centers and pools adhere to strict active screening for COVID-19 symptoms and mask-wearing, a pause on group classes and a review of their COVID-19 preparedness plan and compliance.

"We all need to keep working together to combat this pandemic, and we support the health department’s recommendations," said Dr. Richard Scott, Carver County director of public health. "We will continue supporting our schools and businesses in following this new guidance to protect everyone in our communities."