By Kate Raddatz

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — State health officials say a new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 has made its way to Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed Thursday the COVID variant first detected in the United Kingdom has been identified in five people in the Twin Cities. The cases range from age 15 to age 37. They reported feeling sick between Dec. 16 and Dec. 31.

Dr. George Morris and other health experts believe the new variant is more contagious.

“We’ve had over 90 million cases identified throughout the world, and to have that many cases without expecting viral shift or changes, that’s not realistic,” Morris said.

He says the more familiar strain of COVID has about a 10% chance of an infected person spreading it to at least one other person.

(credit: CDC/NIAID)

“With this new variant, the B-117, it’s seems like that’s more like 15%, maybe 20%, so it’s increasing,” Morris said.

Still, the variant is not believed to be more deadly. However, Dr. Morris says it could cause more deaths by spreading more quickly to vulnerable populations.

“If the regular coronavirus spreads to 10,000 people, we’ll have a certain percentage of deaths,” he said. “But if this new variant spreads to 20,000 people, we will have more deaths.”

That’s why experts continue to encourage the practice of measures like social distancing and mask wearing.

The good news is preliminary studies show the COVID vaccines will offer protection against the new strain.

“We need to continue to focus on the things that we have identified that are helpful,” Morris said. “Trust our scientists, use our trusted source of information, and continue these conversations.”

Of the five new cases identified in Minnesota, only two reported recent international travel. None of the five people have been hospitalized.

Kate Raddatz