Health and Science

Minnesota confirms first known U.S. case of more contagious Covid variant originally found in Brazil

Cooper Neill | Reuters

The Minnesota Department of Health said Monday it has confirmed the first known U.S. case of a more contagious coronavirus variant originally found in Brazil.

The Brazil strain was found through the health department's variant surveillance program, according to a press release. The department collects 50 random samples each week for genome sequencing.

The patient with the Brazil variant is a resident of the Twin Cities metro area who recently traveled to Brazil, according to state health officials. The person became ill during the first week of January and the specimen was collected Jan. 9, the state said.

"We're thankful that our testing program helped us find this case, and we thank all Minnesotans who seek out testing when they feel sick or otherwise have reason to get a test," Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement. "We know that even as we work hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to evolve as all viruses do."

Earlier in the day, President Joe Biden extended travel restrictions for Europe, the U.K. and Brazil, in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, particularly as new strains of the coronavirus are identified.

Health officials are concerned that the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market may not be as effective in guarding against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus. Moderna said Monday it is working on a booster shot to guard against another strain found in South Africa.

The Brazil strain, called P.1, was first identified in four travelers from Brazil who were tested during a routine screening in Tokyo, Japan, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies, according to the CDC.

State health officials also said Monday they found two more cases of the B.1.1.7 virus that was first identified in the U.K. through last week's variant surveillance testing. Of the two new cases of that variant, both are Twin Cities metro area residents and both reported recent travel to California, officials said.

"These cases illustrate why it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible," said epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield in a statement. "If you must travel, it is important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19, follow public health guidance on getting tested prior to travel, use careful protective measures during travel, and quarantine and get tested after travel."