Health unit probing cause of Roberta Place outbreak, with signs indicating it could be travel-related

Health unit says traveller came into close contact with long-term care worker

Officials with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) are investigating whether a deadly outbreak at a Barrie long-term care home is the result of travel outside Canada.

In a virtual media conference Wednesday evening, it was revealed that a staff member at Roberta Place had contact with someone who had travelled outside Canada and later became ill with COVID-19. It is unknown if that led to the outbreak that has caused 122 residents to fall ill, and 19 to die.

“We do not know for sure. And usually, we never do find out for sure,” said SMDHU medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner. “There was a contact between one staff member and a person who had travelled out of country but not to the UK, South Africa or Brazil. So, it’s not clear to us whether or not that individual was the source or not. But certainly, that’s an important consideration as a possibility.”

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Dr. Gardner maintained he could get into no further specifics than that. “I’m always limited to how much information I can give, because we do need to protect the identity of individuals.”

During a Thursday morning media conference, associate medical officer of health Dr. Colin Lee suggested the fact the virus behind the outbreak is likely a variant of the original, it does point to travel as a cause. “There is a likelihood that there was a travel connection, given that the variant strain in Ontario is relatively early,” he told the media. “But having said that, we have seen variant strain cases now, of persons with no connection with travel, and it could have been the second generation from a previous traveller a little while ago.”

Testing done on six swabs taken from Roberta Place show strong indications the virus plaguing the long-term care facility is one of three known variants. A second, more conclusive test is being run, and results are expected within days.