Ontario’s chief medical officer of health has confirmed the first potential death related to COVID-19 in the province.
The 77-year-old Barrie man who died tested positive for the virus after coming in close contact with another positive case.
“The COVID-19 was detected in their system post-death,” Christine Elliott, Ontario’s health minister, said in an interview with Global News Tuesday.
“This person had other physical problems that may have caused the death. We just don’t know yet.”
The man passed away at the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie, Ont. on March 11, according to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams.
The coroner investigation is ongoing to determine the specific cause of death.
Williams said the province will have more information about this in the days ahead.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, said the individual who died had close contact with another man with COVID-19 outside of the RVH.
“They spent time together in closed spaces over several days,” Gardner told reporters. “The deceased was in his 70s, had other pre-existing medical conditions that would put him at risk.”
The individual who passed away was admitted to the hospital because of a “complex medical background,” Gardner said, adding he passed away and was later identified as a possible case of COVID-19.
Gardner said the health unit hasn’t yet been able to identify the source of the virus beyond the two individuals.
The close contact of the individual who passed away is being treated at the RVH for the novel coronavirus. He travelled to Ontario from Alberta and stayed at the Hampton Inn in Barrie, Ont. between March 5 and 11.
“I don’t think we can call this a travel-related case. There wasn’t international travel involved,” Gardner said. “Although we are continuing to investigate, at this point, it does beg the question, is this community-acquired?”
Any hospital staff who’ve been involved directly with the patient have been asked to stay home and self-isolate, RVH president and CEO Janice Skot said at the press conference.
“If others were in the general vicinity, as well as perhaps already wearing appropriate protective equipment, they’ve been asked to self-monitor,” she added.
A COVID-19 assessment centre opened in Barrie, Ont. on Monday. RVH president and CEO Janice Skot said “hundreds” of people had come to the facility on Tuesday.
“It’s quite clear that there’s a much greater desire for testing than what is actually being able to be achieved, in part because of shortages of swabs and limitations of personal protective equipment, and a heightened anxiety by the public, leading to a surge in the desire to be tested,” Gardner said.
On Tuesday morning, Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.
As of Tuesday evening, there have been five deaths related to COVID-19 in Canada, four of which have been in British Columbia. In Canada, there are 556 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.