A rapidly growing outbreak of variant COVID-19 among people in Carver County has state and county health officials calling for youth athletes and parents to double down on measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Since late January, at least 68 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to participants in both school-sponsored and club sports activities, including hockey, wrestling, basketball, alpine skiing and other sports. In addition, health officials have seen increases in cases in Carver County gyms and fitness centers, with many of the cases linked to the sports-related cases. From Feb. 24 to March 4, there was a 62% increase in cases in Carver County, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
Through recently completed whole genome sequencing of a portion of the sample specimens from the outbreak cases, health officials confirmed 24 cases of the B117 variant — first identified in the United Kingdom — since Jan. 28. They have occurred in athletes, coaches, students and household contacts. In addition, 18 cases are linked epidemiologically to one or more B117 cases and are pending sequencing results. Another 26 cases have links to confirmed B117 cases. Multiple schools, both public and private, have confirmed cases tied to the variant strain cases. Many of the people with B117 variant COVID-19 attended school or sports activities while infectious.
“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,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “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.”
To control the spread, health officials are recommending a county-wide pause in youth sports (including both school teams and club teams) for two weeks starting Monday, March 8. Due to the risk that the outbreak has spread to other counties, health officials also recommend that for youth sports elsewhere in Minnesota there should be active screening, weekly testing of athletes and coaches, no gatherings before/after games (e.g., team dinners, parties, sleepovers), and strict enforcement of proper masking. Investigation of sports cases and outbreaks will continue, and in counties where rapid spread is detected additional measures may become necessary.
Recognizing the elevated risk of the virus spreading in settings beyond youth sports teams, health officials also recommended several other measures specific to Carver County including:
- For schools:
- Maintain hybrid learning model with full physical distancing for secondary students.
- Consider pause on extracurricular activities where full distancing cannot be maintained.
- Reinforcement of mitigation strategies among school communities.
- Review of COVID-19 preparedness plan and compliance for school setting, associated activities.
- Limit gatherings outside of household.
- For gyms, fitness centers, pools:
- Strict active screening for symptoms or recent exposure to COVID-19 for employees or other staff.
- Strict adherence to masking.
- Pause group classes.
- Review of COVID-19 preparedness plan and compliance.
- Consider not attending if at high risk for severe disease.
Strict prevention measures are recommended for all settings, and health officials are urging Minnesotans to delay nonessential travel and nonessential gatherings. The prevention measures work for the variant as well as other strains. Increased testing is being recommended.
“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.”