Cases of the new COVID-19 variant found in Minnesota

Five cases of a new variant strain of COVID-19 have been detected in Minnesota, health officials said Saturday.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, cases of the new strain in five residents from four metro counties were confirmed on Saturday with the first patient exhibiting symptoms as early as December 16.

None of the five patients, who range in age between 15 and 37, have been hospitalized at this time.

"It’s important to note that this variant strain of the virus has been found in other states in the U.S., so we were expecting to find the virus in Minnesota. Knowing that it is now here does not change our current public health recommendations," said State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield in a statement provided by MDH.

"While it is thought to be more easily spread from one person to another, it has not been found to cause more serious disease," Lynfield added. "With RNA viruses, like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, it is not unexpected to see new, more successful strains emerge."

MDH says while the virus may be more contagious, it doesn't appear to be any deadlier than other COVID-19 strains. But, MDH Director of Infectious Disease Kris Ehresmann says the detection of the new strain reinforces the importance of wearing a mask and following social distancing guidelines.

Ehresmann also notes that the COVID-19 vaccine appears to be effective in stopping the new strain.

The department says it's too soon to know how the new strain could impact COVID-19 case rates in Minnesota.