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COVID variants continue to threaten herd immunity

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- In the nation's race to vaccinate, there's now an opponent trailing close by: COVID variants. Specifically, variant B117.

"There are some warning signs that we are watching very closely," Olmsted County Public Health Director Graham Briggs said. "We are preparing as if we are going to have another surge. We'd rather be safe than sorry."

Friday, Minnesota Department of Health told FOX 47 the B117 variant accounted for 50 to 60 percent of virus spread in Minnesota.

"We haven't beaten this yet," Minnesota Department of Public Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said.

Over the weekend, more alarm bells surrounding the variant.

"We are really in a category five hurricane status with regard to the rest of the world," Minnesota Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm said Sunday. "At this point, we will see in the next two weeks, the highest number of cases reported globally. Since the end of the pandemic, in terms of the United States, we're just at the beginning of this surge. We haven't even really begun to see it yet."

In Southeast Minnesota, the worry is there -- but there is also optimism.

"It's great to see it in practice," Briggs said. "Right here on the ground in Olmsted County, it's stopping transmission if we can get shots into arms."

Vaccines are proving its effectiveness in the county's senior populations. Nearly 90 percent of people 65 and older are fully vaccinated and infections in senior living facilities are nearly non existent. In the county as a whole, nearly 50 percent are at least partially vaccinated.

"Dr. Osterholm has reason to tell the country that we may be in a eye of a hurricane here nationally," Briggs said. "I think if we are looking locally and other pockets around the country, we are starting to build immunity here in Olmsted County so those most venerable in Olmsted County are protected."

FOX 47 received a statement from the Minnesota Department of Health Monday afternoon.

"While 26% of all Minnesotans 16 years of age and older are now fully vaccinated, there is still a ways to go and we can’t let our guard down now. We are starting to see hospitalizations increase," the statement read. "That along with continued spread of variants underscores how important it is that Minnesotans continue to mask, social distance, stay home when you feel sick, get tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed and get the vaccine when it’s available to you. "

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Beret Leone

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