This story was originally published on March 5, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesota health officials are encouraging a two-week pause in youth sports in Carver County due to a rapidly growing outbreak of the U.K. COVID-19 variant.

Since late January, Minnesota Department of Health has detected at least 68 COVID-19 cases linked to club sport activities, including hockey, wrestling, basketball, and alpine skiing, among others. Of the 68 cases, 24 have been confirmed cases of the B117 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. Officials have also seen an increase in cases connected to Carver County gyms and fitness centers.

“We have seen an increase in cases particularly in those under 20,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, an MDH Epidemiologist. She said none of the cases in student-athletes are serious, but she worried they are spreading the virus to coaches and other teams they play.

According to the MDH, there was a 62% increase in variant cases between Feb. 24 and March 4. As well as the 24 confirmed cases of the B117 variant, 18 cases have been linked to one or more B117 cases and are pending results. An additional 26 cases have been linked to confirmed B117 cases. Many people with the variant attended school or sport activities while infectious, and the outbreak has impacted multiple schools.

In order to contain the spread, health officials are recommending a pause in youth sports starting Monday.

“MDH is recommending that for youth sports elsewhere in Minnesota, there should be active screening for symptoms and we recommend weekly testing for athletes and coaches,” said Dr. Lynfield.

MDH encourages Carver County schools to maintain a hybrid learning model and consider a pause on other extracurricular activities. Gyms in the area are encouraged to adhere to strict screening and mask-wearing, and to put a pause on group classes.

In an email to families late Friday night, the Chaska-Chanhassen Hockey Association said it will allow athletes to play until there’s a direct order to stop.

“This is a race against the clock,” said Gov. Tim Walz during a press conference on Friday. “You’re going to see that we’re seeing clusters of outbreaks of B117 are starting to pop up. And that’s the U.K. variant that poses us some challenges. We need to beat that thing before it gets a foothold.”

However, the variant isn’t just a Carver County problem. MDH says there are 165 cases of the B117 variant in 15 counties across Minnesota. Eight of those cases required hospitalizations, and one Minnesotan died. MDH says the symptoms of the variant are similar to the original virus.

Investigation of sport cases and outbreaks will continue, MDH says.

Marielle Mohs