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Lab testing identifies COVID-19 variant as part of deadly Barrie, Ont., nursing home outbreak

Click to play video 'Potential COVID-19 variant found at Ontario long-term care homes' Potential COVID-19 variant found at Ontario long-term care homes
The Canadian Red Cross has been deployed to a Barrie long-term care home in the midst of an outbreak. – Jan 18, 2021

Lab testing has confirmed a COVID-19 variant in six swabs from Roberta Place, a long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., that has been experiencing a deadly novel coronavirus outbreak, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has confirmed.

The variant strain testing is a two-part test, and at this time, the health unit says the first test indicates a “very high probability” that there’s a variant strain that’s of concern.

Read more: Orillia hospital to temporarily lead Roberta Place nursing home in controlling COVID-19 outbreak

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The second part of variant testing is a whole-genome sequencing test to determine the exact strain of the virus. The health unit says results to determine the exact strain are expected in the next three or four days.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Charles Gardner, the local health unit’s medical officer of health, said 19 people have died as a result of the outbreak at Roberta Place. He said 122 residents, 69 staff and two essential visitors have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

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“We have been seeking testing to determine whether or not there is a variant of concern, a strain of COVID-19 that is more communicable that would perhaps explain how rapidly this outbreak has progressed and the large number of people affected,” Gardner said.

“A total of six of the individuals whose samples were submitted for this testing came back with a particular mutation called the 501 mutation that is consistent with a variant of concern. By variant of concern, I mean the possibility of the U.K. strain, South African strain or the Brazilian strain.”

Read more: More than 100 COVID-19 cases, 9 deaths reported at Barrie long-term care home

Gardner said it could also be another unidentified strain and that there’s a small possibility that it’s not a variant of concern. He also noted it’s unclear exactly how a COVID-19 variant made its way into Roberta Place.

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“We do not know for sure,” Gardner said. “There was a contact between one staff member and a person who had travelled out of country but not to the U.K., South Africa or Brazil, so it’s not clear to us whether that individual was the source or not, but certainly that’s an important consideration as a possibility.”

According to Gardner, the person who travelled internationally became infected with COVID-19.

Read more: Ontario reports 89 new COVID-19-related deaths, 2,655 more cases

“I have consulted with Public Health Ontario, with regards to additional control measures that they might recommend or changes in infection control practices and the use of personal protective equipment,” Gardner said.

“At this point in time, there isn’t anything further that they would recommend apart from what is routinely done.”

The COVID-19 outbreak at Roberta Place was declared on Jan. 8. On Jan. 16, Gardner issued an order to allow the Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital to take a temporary leadership role in controlling the outbreak.

The Canadian Red Cross has also been deployed to help Roberta Place with the COVID-19 outbreak

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On Wednesday, Ontario long-term care minister Merrilee Fullerton said the province has been informed of several cases of a COVID-19 variant at Roberta Place.

“This development underscores the need for everyone to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19 and help protect our long-term care homes, especially as we find more evidence of new variants in our communities,” Fullerton said in a statement.

“It is also a stark reminder of the need for greater vigilance at our borders with incoming travellers.”

Fullerton said the Ontario government is working with partners to make sure Roberta Place has the staffing support it needs.