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More contagious version of coronavirus spreading in Minnesota

Plus: Smith calls for federal investigation into price gouging of natural gas following storm; Minnesota Historical Society returns 114 acres of land to Lower Sioux Indian Community; ice portal sculpture returns in St. Paul; and more.

In the Star Tribune, Christopher Snobeck writes: “Worrisome signs are surfacing that a more contagious version of the pandemic virus is spreading in Minnesota, even as the state continues to see fewer COVID-19 deaths and cases. The Minnesota Department of Health announced last week that the number of B.1.1.7 variant cases confirmed across the state more than doubled in one week from 18 to 40. The state public health lab, meanwhile, is performing genetic sequencing on a growing number of samples used in tests where the results suggest the variant might have caused infections.”

The AP reports: “A Democratic senator is calling for federal investigations into possible price gouging of natural gas in the Midwest and other regions following severe winter storms that plunged Texas and other states into a deep freeze that caused power outages in millions of homes and businesses. Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith says natural gas spot prices spiked as high as 100 times typical levels, forcing utilities and other natural gas users to incur exorbitant costs, many of which were passed on to customers.” 

Also in the Star Tribune, Kelly Smith writes: “In an emotional ceremony this month, the Minnesota Historical Society officially returned 114 acres along the Minnesota River bluffs to the Lower Sioux Indian Community. The land transfer, approved by the Legislature in 2017, became official Feb. 12, returning about half of the southern Minnesota property around the nonprofit’s historic site to the tribe. … The land is the Lower Sioux homeland, known as Cansa’yapi (Dakota for “where they marked the trees red”) and where the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 began. For more than 20 years, the Lower Sioux sought to reclaim the property.”

MPR’s Andrew Krueger writes: “Officials at northern Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore say the park’s famed Lake Superior ice caves will remain closed again this season because of poor ice conditions and the pandemic. Despite the recent stretch of subzero conditions, ice coverage on Lake Superior is only about 50 percent as of this weekend.”

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KSTP-TV’s Richard Reeve says: “Along East Lake Street in Minneapolis, hit hard by the riots last spring, there was a special gathering Saturday. ‘I believe that there’s hope,’ says Jacqui Ward, from Brooklyn Center. ‘We’re more together now than we ever were.’ The Midtown Global Market hosted a pop-up event for Black entrepreneurs. Organizers say it was a sort of new beginning for the neighborhood. … Saturday’s event was in recognition of World Day of Social Justice, a time for frank talk about issues like poverty, gender equality, unemployment and human rights.The Midtown Global Market is planning to do the pop-up market again next Saturday. It’s all part of a new season — and new beginnings — after a difficult year.”

Julio Ojeda-Zapata writes in the Pioneer Press: “The beloved ice portal has returned. St. Paul residents earlier this month were captivated by an ice and metal sculpture that loomed over a Summit Avenue median after mysteriously appearing like some kind of sci-fi monolith. …  It certainly got on the radar of St. Paul city workers, who deemed the structure potentially unsafe and tore it down, delivering the fragments to its chagrined creator. … The artist and his wife soon fielded offers for alternate locations that would not run afoul of the public works department. … The couple decided on the front yard of a residence at 1218 Summit Avenue, with the homeowners’ blessing.”