Ninety-nine people have tested positive for an unidentified COVID-19 variant, with most being linked to a devastating coronavirus outbreak at Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit confirmed Tuesday.
The second portion of the two-part variant test is still underway to determine the exact COVID-19 strain, but the health unit says it expects the results to show the presence of the U.K. coronavirus variant.
Over the weekend, the health unit confirmed the U.K. COVID-19 variant played a role in the rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place, where 46 people have died as of Tuesday afternoon.
While most of the 99 positive unidentified variant cases are related to Roberta Place, two have no links to the long-term care home.
“Our investigation into these preliminary results is early, but it appears that two persons have no known link to those individuals we recently identified as positive for the U.K. variant,” Dr. Charles Gardner, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health, said in a statement.
“This certainly makes us concerned that the variant may be more widespread, and that in turn means that we need to really take public health measures that prevent spread of the virus much more to heart.”
A worker at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, which is currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, is one of the two people who’ve tested positive for a coronavirus variant that has yet to be identified.
The preliminary 99 COVID-19 variant results come one day after the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit reported seven U.K. variant cases in the region. Six of those cases are associated with the Roberta Place COVID-19 outbreak, while one involves an individual who had close contact with a person who is a part of a coronavirus outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community, another nursing home in the region.
The health unit says it’s continuing to investigate whether the Bradford Valley outbreak is a result of the U.K. COVID-19 variant.
“I’m sharing this information because this variant is on the move in our community and the only way it can move is through people,” Gardner said in a statement.
“We need to absolutely follow the stay at home order so that we can protect ourselves, those who are more vulnerable and our health care system. We need to assume that a variant of this virus is everywhere and do everything we can to drive it out.”
At a press conference Tuesday, Gardner said the 99 new variant cases have been reported through data the health unit received in relation to a study that Public Health Ontario has been doing since last Wednesday.
“On Wednesday, they obtained all the samples for all of the individuals in the province who had tested positive on that day, so 2,500 samples, and are testing them all to see if they have evidence of one of the variants of concern,” Gardner said.
“When they identify any that are positive for that, they genetically sequence the sample in order to determine which variant of concern — whether it’s the U.K. variant or one of the others — the South African or Brazilian.”
Gardner said the Simcoe Muskoka health unit is awaiting more data from Public Health Ontario to get a more fulsome picture as to how common the COVID-19 variant was on Wednesday of last week, which offers officials a “snapshot in time.”
The local health officer noted there may already be community transmission of COVID-19 variants of concern in Simcoe Muskoka.
“Our experience with COVID-19 in general is what you see is reflective of what happened maybe one to two weeks ago,” Gardner said.
“If we’re detecting things now, then there’s things happening that we’re not going to see for a while. I think it’s better, more cautious to assume there’s more happening and to take our precautions accordingly.”
All residents in long-term care facilities in Simcoe Muskoka have been immunized from COVID-19. The health unit is also working to ensure all residents in retirement homes in Barrie and Bradford get inoculated, according to Gardner.