Health officials are alerting youth athletes and their parents in Carver County to clusters of infections with a more contagious form of the pandemic virus — a discovery that has implications for youth sports across the state.

Since late January, at least 68 cases have been connected to participants in school-sponsored and club sports, the Minnesota Department of Health announced Friday. Whole genome sequencing has confirmed a subset of the cases are caused by the variant known as B.1.1.7.

The state also has seen case increases connected to gyms and fitness centers in Carver County. Many of those cases are connected to the sports-related cases, which include athletes in hockey, wrestling, basketball, Alpine skiing and other sports.

The B.1.1.7 variant was first identified last year in the United Kingdom, where scientists have found this form of the virus is both more infectious and virulent. Health officials have called for a two-week pause in youth sports, including school and club teams, across Carver County starting Monday, March 8.

“Due to the risk that the outbreak has spread to other counties, health officials also recommend that for youth sports elsewhere in Minnesota there should be active screening, weekly testing of athletes and coaches, no gatherings before/after games … and strict enforcement of proper masking,” the Health Department said in a news release.

From Feb. 24 to March 4, there was a 62% increase in cases in Carver County, the Health Department said, with cases found in athletes, coaches, students and household contacts.

On Thursday, the Star Tribune reported three girls’ basketball teams from the seven-team Metro West Conference canceled the rest of their regular season scheduled due to COVID-19 exposure including Chaska, which is located in Carver County.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck

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