A COVID-19 outbreak has worsened at a Barrie, Ont., nursing home that’s seen 27 deaths and almost all residents infected with the virus.
As of Friday afternoon, a spokesperson with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit confirmed 124 residents, 81 staff members and two essential visitors have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at Roberta Place, where a COVID-19 variant was found earlier this week.
Testing is underway to confirm the exact strain of the variant, with results expected in the next couple days.
On Friday, the local health unit said all eligible residents and staff at Roberta Place’s retirement home, adjacent to the long-term care facility, are being vaccinated against COVID-19 in an effort to protect them against the “highly likely” variant that has devastated the nursing home next door.
Vaccinations are scheduled to be complete at Roberta Place retirement home by end of day Friday. Any remaining residents and staff at Roberta Place long-term care home will also be immunized.
Beginning this weekend, the health unit and the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) will start vaccinating retirement homes residents across Simcoe County and Muskoka.
“Barrie has become ground zero for what is likely a COVID-19 variant of concern, which has spread rapidly throughout Roberta Place and we are concerned that it will spread into our community and into other long-term and retirement homes,” Dr. Charles Gardner, the health unit’s medical officer of health, said in a statement.
“This is a race against time and we need to use the COVID-19 vaccine as our most effective means to protect these residents. We have to do what we can to prevent other outbreaks.”
It’s unclear exactly how a COVID-19 variant made its way into Roberta Place, but health officials have said a staff member came into close contact with someone who travelled internationally and tested positive for COVID-19.
Officials wouldn’t disclose where the person travelled but confirmed it wasn’t to the U.K., South Africa or Brazil, where novel coronavirus variants have been found.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and RVH have been administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to the long-term care sector and health-care workers in the region. Due to the delay of Pfizer vaccine shipments to Canada, the health unit says vaccine supply is “extremely low and uncertain.”
The health unit says its working with RVH and the Ontario government to secure more vaccines in order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 variant and to protect the region’s most vulnerable residents.
To date, all eligible long-term care residents in Simcoe County and Muskoka have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our absolute first priority must be to protect our most vulnerable residents, and in turn, our region. This variant spreads quickly,” RVH’s president and CEO Janice Skot said in a statement.
“We have very little vaccine supply at this time. Immunizing all retirement home residents is the right thing to do, however it has significant implication on those waiting for their second dose of the vaccine. We need provincial help.”
A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at Roberta Place long-term care home in Jan. 8. On Jan. 16, Gardner issued an order to allow Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital to temporarily lead the home in controlling the outbreak.
The Canadian Red Cross has also been deployed to help respond to the situation.
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