Coaches and athletes are calling “Time Out!” An outbreak of the B.1.1.7 Covid-19 variant in Carver Country, an area including the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metroplex forced the Minnesota Health Department officials to recommend a two-week pause in youth sports.
Scientists traced back 68 cases of the Covid-19 UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, to youth who participated in school-related sports and activities. Basketball, baseball, hockey, and even skiing have been linked to the sudden spike in cases. Minneapolis school districts are evaluating options to limit activities before more athletes, coaches, and parents are affected. The goal is not to prevent important extracurricular activities but rather to prevent the further spread of this Covid-19.
Fortunately, Minnesota Health Department officials report that the infected individuals have done well. Still, the increase in cases from the UK variant is problematic affecting more than just student-athletes. The StarTribune reported, “Whole-genome sequencing has confirmed that 24 of the cases were caused by the variant known as B.1.1.7, with cases found in athletes, coaches, students, and household contacts. Health officials have found links between those cases and at least 44 others.”
The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in the United Kingdom but has rapidly spread worldwide. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) data shows this new variant is now present in all 50 US states. Current data projections suggest it will become the predominant strain in the US in the next few weeks.
The B.1.1.7 variant is more contagious due to a mutation in the receptor on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. While this variant is more contagious, it is uncertain at this time if it is more lethal.
A new March report from the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) contains concerning findings. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) summarized the results as “ evidence suggests the B.1.1.7 variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared with other variants.”
Reuters reports UK health officials are concerned early data may demonstrate the B.1.1.7 may be more contagious in children and infants.
In an abundance of caution, the Minnesota Health Department recommended a temporary two-week pause in youth sporting activities to slow the spread. The recommendations were not released as a statewide mandate. Each school district is left to determine its own policy.
It is essential to know that new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, are expected. Viruses naturally mutate. Some mutations will persist while others fade away. Scientists study the genetic changes of the virus to monitor for potential threats.
While there are many identified SARS-CoV-2 mutations, there are three under a higher level of scrutiny. The B.1.1.7 (UK variant) is being monitored because it spreads so quickly. Epidemiologists are also closely watching the B.1.35 South African and the P1 Brazilian variant.
Data suggests these three variants are more contagious and spread faster than others. A sudden spike in one of these variants could potentially strain health resources as states try to scale out vaccination rollouts as fast as possible.
The good news is evidence so far indicates the currently available Covid-19 tests can accurately detect these variants. In addition, the FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccines are effective against these variants. Vaccine efficacy studies are in progress and are being closely monitored.
The current FDA-approved vaccines from Moderna, Phizer, and Johnson and Johnson are still effective against the B.1.1.7 variant. The Moderna and Phizer vaccines offer 95% protection against Covid-19. Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen vaccine offers 72% protection against infection and 86% against severe disease.
All three are highly effective in preventing death.
Minneapolis and the surrounding areas are temporarily hitting the pause button on youth sports to help prevent a wider outbreak.