Simcoe Muskoka’s top doctor “very concerned” about community spread of UK Covid variant

Variant identified at Barrie long-term care facility

As health officials try to contain an outbreak of the United Kingdom (UK) COVID-19 variant that has ravaged Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, the region’s chief medical officer of health says he is “very concerned” about it spreading into the community.

“My concern is very high,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health. “This virus, this variant has proven to be very infectious. It rapidly progressed through the home despite best efforts and has now infected many workers, other partners who responded to the situation, and even some household members of staff and those who responded to the situation.”

Gardner said six COVID-19 cases at Roberta Place are confirmed to be the UK variant, and he would not be surprised that all others who have been infected also have the same type of infection.

“We’ve had test results on six individuals but I do not doubt that all of them have the variant,” said Gardner. “There’s no reason to believe that a second variety was introduced onto the site at the same time coincidently.”

The six cases are among five residents and one employee.

As of Saturday, 127 residents have tested positive for COVID, along with 84 staff members, and the death toll among residents since the outbreak was declared on Jan. 8 has climbed to 32.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit confirmed on Thursday that a worker at the home who had close contact with someone who travelled abroad was one of the first to be suspected of carrying the variant into the home.

Gardner emphasized the worker did not violate the Quarantine Act, adding this person followed all precautions, did not show any initial symptoms and was regularly tested.

Beginning this weekend, the health unit, in collaboration with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, has been immunizing residents at retirement homes throughout Simcoe Muskoka.

Given the delivery delay of shipments of the Pfizer vaccine to Canada, health officials say supply of the vaccine is extremely low and uncertain.