COVID-19: Variants predominant, contact tracing overwhelmed in Middlesex-London

The news comes as health care workers at London Health Sciences Centre tend to a record-high amount of COVID-19 patients inside the hospital network's intensive care and critical care units. Andrew Graham / Global News

Local health officials say COVID-19 variants have become the predominant strain in London, Ont., and Middlesex County and that an ongoing surge in new cases has overwhelmed contact tracing capabilities.

The alarming trends were shared during a media briefing hosted by the Middlesex-London Health Unit on Monday.

That same day, the MLHU reported 102 new coronavirus cases, marking the sixth consecutive report of a single-day COVID-19 case jump in the triple digits.

On Monday, MLHU’s medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie said that along with the region experiencing its “highest-ever case counts,” health officials have now reached a point where contact tracing capabilities are being overwhelmed.

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“We’re no longer able to follow up in detail with every case,” Mackie said.

The medical officer of health added that between March 28 and April 3, London’s N6A postal code had the highest rate of COVID-19 in any community in Ontario.

“The per cent positivity there was 28.9,” Mackie said of the postal code that contains Western University and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

“Quite concerning to see the highest rate hot spot in Ontario being right here in London.”

Dr. Alex Summers, MLHU’s associate medical officer of health, added that modifications have been made to contact tracing, with different processes in place for “low-risk” and “high-risk” cases.

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Summers described “low-risk” as infecting those who are not working or living in congregate settings, as well as those who are not in high-risk workplaces or educational contexts.

“For low-risk cases… we are asking cases to assist us in notifying their close contacts of their exposure and providing directions on how to quarantine,” Summers said.

“We… continue to do in-depth investigations regarding acquisition and exposure in high-risk settings, including congregate care settings as well as riskier workplaces where people are in close contact, and education settings as well.”

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Summers also noted that the “variant of concern is the predominant strain” of COVID-19 within London and Middlesex County.

There are just under 1,200 active cases in the region, at least 778 of which have screened positive for one or more spike gene mutations consistent with a variant of concern. Of the cases that screened positive, more than 600 appear to be the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first discovered in the U.K.

Another 10 have been confirmed through further genomic analysis to be the B.1.1.7 variant.

According to the MLHU, people under 30 account for roughly 70 per cent of all cases that have screened variant-positive in the region so far during the pandemic.

The news comes as health care workers at London Health Sciences Centre tend to a record-high amount of COVID-19 patients inside the hospital network’s intensive care and critical care units.

LHSC’s chief medical officer Dr. Adam Dukelow said there were 53 COVID-19 inpatients, 20 of which are in critical care, as of Monday afternoon.

“Over the past week, we have admitted a total of 52 COVID-19 patients and only seven were transfers from out of region. The bulk of the cases we are reporting are from within our local community,” Dukelow said.

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“We are also continuing to see younger patients that require a high level of care, as the average age of the London-Middlesex patients that were admitted this last week was 54.”

Activity surrounding surgeries and procedures was down about 30 per cent at Victoria Hospital and University Hospital as LHSC followed through on a memo from the Ontario Hospital Association to “ramp down” all elective surgeries and non-emergency activities starting Monday, according to Dukelow.

Dukelow said last week that LHSC is dealing with a backlog of about 5,000 elective surgeries as a result of the pandemic, but was unable to provide a number for the impact on surgeries as a result of Monday’s ramping down of activity.

Those affected by postponed surgeries will be contacted directly, LHSC said.

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