The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said Monday that its Public Health Laboratory has found the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as the Brazil P.1 variant in a specimen from a Minnesota resident with recent travel history to Brazil.
While this variant is thought to be more transmissible than the initial strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, it is not yet known whether the variant causes more severe illness.
This case marks the first documented instance of the Brazil P.1 variant in the United States. The variant was found through the MDH’s variant surveillance program. Each week this program collects 50 random samples from the University of Minnesota clinical laboratories, Infinity Biologix Laboratory in Oakdale, and other testing partners and then conducts special testing using a process called whole genome sequencing. Through this program, the state develops a more accurate picture of what specific forms of COVID-19 are circulating in Minnesota.
According to Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm, this new finding underscores the importance of COVID-19 testing as well as continued efforts by all Minnesotans to limit the spread of the disease.
“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. “We know that even as we work hard to defeat COVID-19, the virus continues to evolve as all viruses do. 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 evolve. The good news is that we can slow the spread of this variant and all COVID-19 variants by using the tried-and-true prevention methods of wearing masks, keeping social distance, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.”
The patient with the Brazil P.1 variant is a resident of the Twin Cities metro area. The person became ill during the first week of January and the specimen was collected Jan. 9. The patient spoke with MDH case investigators after the initial test came back positive for COVID-19, and reported traveling to Brazil prior to becoming ill. The person was advised during that interview to isolate from others and have any household contacts observe quarantine, as per standard protocol. With the new lab information showing the case to be the Brazil P.1 variant, MDH epidemiologists are re-interviewing the person to obtain more details about the illness, travel and contacts.
“One of the reasons we are able to detect those variants of concern in Minnesota so quickly is that we have one of the best public health laboratory surveillance systems in the U.S.,” said Commissioner Malcolm.
The MDH Public Health Laboratory also found two more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant – commonly known as the UK variant – through last week’s COVID-19 variant surveillance testing. Of the two new cases with the UK variant detected by MDH, both are Twin Cities metro area residents and both reported recent travel to California. One had no symptoms but sought testing following their travel, as recommended by MDH and CDC guidelines. One had a symptom onset date of Jan. 3, 2021.
MDH also reported that the CDC identified one additional patient with the variant – also a metro area resident – with recent travel history to the Dominican Republic. This case had a symptom onset date of Jan. 10, 2021.
With these latest cases, a total of eight UK variant cases now have been identified in Minnesota, although more are suspected to exist.
“These cases illustrate why it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield. “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.”
For passengers traveling to the United States from abroad, a negative test from within three days of travel or certificate of prior infection will be required to board, beginning Jan. 26. Travelers are recommended to test for COVID-19 three to five days after arrival and quarantine for at least seven days. It is recommended that people consider getting tested one to three days prior to domestic travel, that they restrict their activities for at least seven days upon return, and that they get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after arrival.
“Widespread testing is the best tool we have for tracking what COVID-19 is doing in Minnesota,” MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said. “Broad testing is also the best way to find asymptomatic cases, which we know can still spread the virus to others. Testing is a key tool in our toolbox to mitigate the impact of this pandemic: Test, isolate, quarantine, practice social distancing, wear a mask, avoid gatherings outside your household whenever possible, and stay home if you are ill.”