By Associated Press - Thursday, March 11, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Thursday he’s planning significant rollbacks of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, following an update by state health officials showing that 70% of the state’s senior citizens have now been vaccinated.

“They will be probably our biggest turn because we’re at a point where we have not been since this thing started, and it will start to give guidance on larger gatherings starting as early as April,” Walz said Thursday during a visit to a Twin Cities high school.

The next three or four weeks will “determine how this pandemic ends,” said Walz, who has scheduled a Friday morning briefing to talk about the changes, the Star Tribune reported.

Walz’s announcement also came on a day when the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed the state’s first known case of a coronavirus variant that was originally identified in South Africa.

The new variant was detected after a Jan. 29 test of a Twin Cities-area resident in their 40s. The person was not hospitalized, health officials said.

While the variant is thought to be more transmissible than the initial strain of the virus that causes COVID-19, it is not yet known whether it causes more severe illness.

Health officials are watching the situation closely because the person’s specimen had an additional mutation to the virus that may make immunity from vaccine or prior infection less responsive.

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