By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A variant of COVID-19 that was first discovered in South Africa is now confirmed to be in Minnesota, health officials announced Thursday.

This marks the first case of the B.1.351 variant, which is thought to be more transmissible than the initial strain, though it’s not yet clear whether it results in a more severe illness.

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This variant has been found in 21 other states as well.

Health officials say they’re keeping a close eye on the variant, which was confirmed in a person from the Twin Cities area in their 40s, showed additional mutation to the virus that could make immunity from vaccines or prior infection less responsive.

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“The virus continues to mutate as all viruses do,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. “That’s yet another reason why we want to limit COVID-19 transmission – the fewer people who get COVID-19, the fewer opportunities the virus has to mutate. The good news is that we can slow that process by wearing masks, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.”

A number of other strains have been detected in Minnesota since the start of the pandemic, across a number of counties. Among those counties is Carver County, which has seen well over 100 cases since late January, along with dozens of the more contagious B117 variant first discovered in the United Kingdom.

The state has also identified the P1 variant first found in Brazil.

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