ST. PAUL — Minnesota health officials advised the public to not let up on their adherence to public health guidelines in light of the continuing spread of novel coronavirus variants.

Cases of the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom continue to grow in number, only a fraction of which were linked to travel, they said, indicating its widespread transmission within the state.

"At this point, it is a race to vaccinate more people versus the growth of variant cases," Minnesota Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield told reporters on a phone call Tuesday, March 23. "As encouraging as the vaccination numbers are, we need to remember that we have a state population of 5.6 million, and millions and most Minnesotans are not yet fully vaccinated."

The latest calls for vigilance from state health authorities comes days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reclassified variants of the coronavirus first found in California as "variants of concern." Lynfield said Tuesday that move suggests the variants, like others discovered before it, may spread more easily from person to person and could hinder the effectiveness of the vaccine for the disease.

By far, the coronavirus variant spreading the fastest in Minnesota appears to be the one first detected in the U.K. Officials have reported a total of 479 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, associated with it.

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The state's number of infections associated with the coronavirus versions first detected in California have also risen to a total of 108. Like the cases in Minnesota linked to the variant discovered in the U.K., only a fraction of the state's cases involving the variant first found in California were associated with travel.

Officials said Tuesday they are continuing to monitor for signs of the variants and noted that there are undoubtedly more infections associated with them than have been identified by disease tests. To limit the spread, they are asking for members of the public to continue practicing social distancing, using face masks, refraining from travel and staying home when symptoms of sickness present themselves.

Failure to do so could help to "fuel a third spike in COVID cases," according to Lynfield.

"Now is the time to buckle down and finish the job we all started," she said. State officials are

Following are the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations as of Tuesday, March 23. Because all data is preliminary, some numbers and totals may change from one day to the next.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 870
  • SEVEN-DAY, ROLLING AVERAGE OF NEW CASES PER 100,000 PEOPLE: 17.5 (As of Sunday, March 14)

  • TOTAL CASES: 507,231
  • TOTAL RECOVERED: 490,340
  • SEVEN-DAY, ROLLING AVERAGE TEST POSITIVITY RATE: 4.5% (As of Sunday, March 14)

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 325

  • TOTAL HOSPITALIZATIONS: 26,797

  • DEATHS, NEWLY REPORTED: 7

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 6,789

Vaccinations

  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED: 1,437,931 people, or 25.8% of the state population

  • COMPLETED SERIES (2 DOSES): 854,827, or 15.4% of the state population

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