UK Covid-19 variant identified at Barrie long-term care home

The outbreak has infected nearly all residents, dozens of staff, and has resulted in 29 deaths

This is what health officials expected, and now they can say for sure.

The COVID-19 outbreak which has ravaged Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie has been identified as the highly infectious United Kingdom (UK) variant.

“The rapid spread, high attack rate and the devastating impact on residents and staff at Roberta Place long-term care home is heartbreaking for all,” said Charles Gardner, Medical Officer of Health for Simcoe Muskoka, in a statement on Saturday. “Confirmation of the variant, while expected, does not change our course of action. We remain diligent in doing everything we can to prevent further spread.”

On Jan. 20, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDH) confirmed that preliminary laboratory testing of six cases had identified a high likelihood that there was a COVID-19 variant of concern. The second test, a whole genome sequencing test, determined the exact COVID-19 variant, the UK B.1.1.7 variant.  This variant of concern is more easily transmitted, resulting in much larger numbers of cases in a very rapid fashion.

The outbreak at Roberta Place long-term care was first declared on Jan. 8. As of Friday, 124 of 127 residents, and 84 staff were positive for the virus, resulting in 29 deaths. In addition, two essential visitors and three external partners have tested positive.

On Friday the health unit in partnership with Barrie’s hospital accelerated its immunization program, with its mobile immunization team vaccinating all eligible residents and staff at Roberta Place Retirement Lodge retirement home against COVID-19. The lodge is located adjacent to Roberta Place long-term care facility. Beginning this weekend, the health unit, with support from Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) began immunizing residents at the other retirement homes throughout Simcoe Muskoka. As of Jan. 16, eligible residents of all long-term care facilities in Simcoe Muskoka have received their first dose of immunization against COVID-19.

In a statement on Friday, health officials said that given the delivery delay of shipments of the Pfizer vaccine to Canada, supply of the vaccine is extremely low and uncertain. The officials said the health unit and Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre continue to work with the provincial government to secure additional supply of the vaccine.