A rapidly growing outbreak of variant COVID-19 among people in Carver County has state and county health officials calling for youth athletes and parents to double down on measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Since late January, at least 68 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to participants in both school-sponsored and club sports activities, including hockey, wrestling, basketball, alpine skiing and other sports. In addition, health officials have seen increases in cases in Carver County gyms and fitness centers, with many of the cases linked to the sports-related cases. From Feb. 24 to March 4, there was a 62% increase in cases in Carver County, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

Through recently completed whole genome sequencing of a portion of the sample specimens from the outbreak cases, health officials confirmed 24 cases of the B117 variant — first identified in the United Kingdom — since Jan. 28. They have occurred in athletes, coaches, students and household contacts. In addition, 18 cases are linked epidemiologically to one or more B117 cases and are pending sequencing results. Another 26 cases have links to confirmed B117 cases. Multiple schools, both public and private, have confirmed cases tied to the variant strain cases. Many of the people with B117 variant COVID-19 attended school or sports activities while infectious.