Today, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) reported that one of the recent cases of COVID-19 in Muskoka has screened positive for a possible COVID variant of concern. The sample is undergoing further testing to confirm if it is indeed a variant and, if so, which one.
Of the three coronavirus variants that have emerged to date, the UK variant has been the most prevalent in Ontario, although there have been instances of both the Brazilian and South African variants.
There have been 153 cases in Simcoe County that have tested positive for the UK B.1.1.7 variant to date, with another 131 cases that have screened positive and are awaiting confirmation. The province has begun testing all positive samples for variants of concern, a two-part process that takes several days to complete.
This is the first time a possible variant of concern has been reported in Muskoka. At this point, the health unit will not divulge in which municipality the case has occurred, but did say that all of the people who have been in contact with that person have been notified.
SMDHU medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, said that residents should assume that there could be a variant of concern in any community in Simcoe Muskoka now.
“What we see with surveillance is always the tip of the iceberg and there’s usually much more beneath the surface than what we know. When we detect something, that means it’s there, there’s more of it, people need to take the precaution [of control measures like social distancing, wearing a mask, and hand-washing],” he said during his COVID-19 briefing today.
Dr. Gardner continues to advise people to stay at home as much as possible and only go out for essential purposes, even though the region has moved into the province’s COVID-19 Red-Control zone as of today. He said that due to the presence of variants in the province, he would have preferred to see the Ford Government continue its stay-at-home order and believes that with the rise in the number of variant cases the province is taking a risk in ending that order.
“[The stay-at-home order] was essential to our communication strategy to the community about reducing the risk of transmission by staying at home,” he said . “…modelling done by the Science Table for the province for COVID predicts that the new variants will continue to become more prevalent…by March… and could very well lead to a resurgence of cases, a new wave.”
Many of the Simcoe County cases of the UK variant to date have been associated with long-term care outbreaks with devastating outcomes. At Roberta Place in Barrie, 129 residents—all but one—and 89 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, with 87 of those positive for the UK variant and 20 awaiting confirmation on a variant of concern. Sixty-seven residents at that facility are confirmed to have died as a result of COVID-19, with another three COVID-19 deaths associated with that facility probable based on the presentation of their symptoms.
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