U.K. COVID-19 variant found at long-term care home in Barrie, Ont.

U.K. variant found in Ont.

Health officials identified a U.K. variant of COVID-19 at a long-term care home reeling from a deadly outbreak in Barrie, Ont., Saturday as the province recorded a slightly lower daily virus case count.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said genome sequencing on six COVID-19 samples from Roberta Place Retirement Lodge have been identified as the highly contagious B117 variant.

Officials with the local health unit announced earlier this week that they had found a variant at the home north of Toronto and conducted tests to determine what it was. Known variant strains of the virus were first detected in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.

As of Saturday, officials said 32 residents of the facility have died of COVID-19.

A total of 127 residents of the site, as well as 84 staff, have tested positive. Six residents and one staff member were in hospital.

Positive cases have also been found in two of the site's essential visitors, as well as 21 household members, such as workers, and three external partners, such as physicians.

Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said he suspected that all of the facility's cases were the variant.

An outbreak at Roberta Place was first declared on Jan. 8.

Gardner said the home wasn't able to successfully cohort cases and non-cases at the start of the outbreak, partly because of how quickly it spread and partly because of how many staff members became ill, leading to difficulty in maintaining adequate staffing.

At a virtual news conference Saturday, Gardner faced questions about why stronger protocols weren't in place at the start of the outbreak. He said it would be extremely difficult for most facilities to handle a variant that moves this quickly.

"We certainly will have to learn from this with regards to what you do with other sites. The whole province will have to learn as we go," he said.

The source of the variant at the facility hasn't been confirmed. Earlier this week health officials said a worker at the site had contact with someone who had travelled abroad, but Gardner said there was no violation of government quarantine guidelines in that case.

Gardner said officials are taking measures including monitoring the close contacts of those who've gone in and out of the facility to prevent community transmission.

Gardner said they haven't seen evidence of community spread yet but the risk is high.

The health unit, in partnership with the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, said it accelerated its immunization program on Friday and vaccinated all eligible residents and staff.

Officials said they planned to immunize residents at other retirement homes throughout Simcoe Muskoka over the weekend.

As of Jan. 16, eligible residents of all long-term care facilities in Simcoe Muskoka have also received their first dose of immunization against COVID-19.

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