For the first time we're getting a look at where health officials at the Minnesota Department of Health recently found clusters of COVID-19 cases in Carver County.
On Monday, MDH reported COVID cases growing rapidly in Carver County, about 35 miles southwest of Minneapolis. MDH says most of them are tied to school sports.
From Feb. 24 to March 4, MDH says there was a 62% increase in cases in Carver County.
Kris Ehresmann is the MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division Director.
"That's what's really unique about this situation," explained Ehresmann. "The cases are connected and when we look at them, we can see how the spread has taken off through that broader sports eco-system."
She said that includes school and club sports like basketball, hockey and wrestling. It also goes beyond games and includes practices and other activities like team dinners.
KARE 11 found out clusters of cases, that include the highly contagious variant from the United Kingdom, were found in nine schools in Carvery County. MDH routinely surveys cases and found, at one point, two people from the same school tested positive for the variant.
"That prompted a larger, deep dive into the situation which then uncovered all of the tentacles," said MDH epidemiologist Susan Klammer.
Citing privacy concerns, MDH would only reveal a broad summary of where the clusters of cases were found. Here's a breakdown of the nine schools:
• 2 private high schools
• 2 public high schools
• 4 public middle schools
• 1 public elementary school
MDH also says clusters of variant cases were found at:
• 3 community sports facilities
• 2 sports clubs/organizations
• 1 child care facility
MDH said there were additional case clusters in more locations, including gyms and fitness centers:
• Lifetime Chanhassen
• CFC Athletics
• Victoria Recreation Center
• Chaska Community Center
• American Legion
On Monday, MDH recommended starting a two-week, county-wide pause on youth sports. If an organization doesn't abide by that, Ehresmann says people can get tested regularly at a new site opening in Chanhassen on Thursday.
"I know sometimes parents feel like we're saying their kids are bad, or that sports are bad, that is not the case," said Ehresmann. "It's the virus that's bad."
MDH found variant cases in 15 other Minnesota counties, including Anoka, Hennepin and Mille Lacs to name a few.
"We are watching those situations with equal concern and making similar recommendations," she said. But explained those cases are different because they are random and not connected like in Carver County.
"What’s unique about Carver is really the clustering and that whole lattice of connectedness amongst cases. It’s not just purely the number of cases, it’s how connected they are and where the transmission appears to have been happening," said Ehresmann.