By Kate Raddatz

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Some of Mayo Clinic’s top infectious disease experts say it’s becoming more likely COVID-19 will never be completely eliminated. The virus is continuing to mutate into different strains.

At a virtual press conference on Wednesday, they addressed the spread of the new COVID variants and how they are spreading more easily than the strain from the last year.

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So far 18 cases of the B.1.17 variant – which was first discovered in the U.K. – have been found in the state. The only two cases of the country’s known P.1 variant – discovered in Brazil – are also in Minnesota.

However, the COVID tests don’t automatically characterize which virus a person might have. MDH says they are sequencing about 100 COVID tests each week to figure out if they are a newer strain.

Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said they are going to “double again our capacity to be looking for the sequencing to be looking for these variants.”

Mayo Clinic infectious disease expert Dr. Greg Poland said the mutation of the virus and the speed of its spread means it’s likely COVID will become an endemic virus.

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“It’s not like we’ll develop herd immunity and eliminate this virus. I think that’s the least of the possibilities,” he said.

Still, Poland says if enough people get vaccinated, the disease will likely become more manageable with less deaths, like the flu.

“This will over time, if it follows other pandemics, we will as people adapt to it,” said Dr. Bill Morice, with Mayo Clinic. However, he warned that if the appropriate measures are not taken, there could be more pain in the future.

Some good news is that early data shows the AstraZeneca vaccines could decrease viral load, which would be a promising sign that the vaccines may not only prevent disease but also reduce transmission.

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Early evidence with the AstraZeneca vaccine – which isn’t approved yet for use in the U.S. – shows it’s less effective against the variant first found in South Africa. Still, Poland says all vaccines should lower deaths and hospitalizations against the virus.

Kate Raddatz