Health unit probes whether COVID-19 variant behind 2nd Ontario long-term care home outbreak

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is investigating whether an outbreak at a long-term care home in the town of Bradford West Gwillimbury is due to the variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

At a news conference on Sunday, Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the health unit, said a person linked to the Bradford Valley Care Community has tested positive for the variant.

Gardner said the person has had close contact with another individual who is a part of the outbreak at that home. Public Health Ontario Laboratory told the health unit about the positive case late Saturday.

The health unit is now conducting more testing to determine if the COVID-19 variant has caused the outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community, and it is working with the home to implement public health measures to contain the spread.

“What we are concerned about in this situation is the potential for that facility to actually be a U.K. variant outbreak. We need the laboratory confirmation to determine that. That is our concern at this time,” Gardner told reporters on Sunday.

The health unit said it is investigating “all other connections” to the person who tested positive. Gardner said the person has worked in a retail setting in Simcoe County that offered curbside pickup, and two COVID-19 cases are linked to this setting. He declined to name the retail setting and the exact location.

The health unit doesn’t believe the person had travelled abroad recently.

As of Sunday, six residents out of 230 and three staff out of 260 at the home have tested positive for COVID-19, but there is no laboratory confirmation that they have the new strain of the virus. Gardner said he doesn’t know when the tests will be completed.

The outbreak at the home was declared on Jan. 14.

News follows COVID-19 variant outbreak at Roberta Place

The news comes after the health unit said the variant is behind a deadly outbreak at Roberta Place Long Term Care in Barrie, Ont., on Saturday. Genome sequencing on six COVID-19 samples from the home have been identified as the highly contagious variant.

An outbreak at Roberta Place, first declared on Jan. 8, has resulted in the deaths of 40 residents and one essential caregiver as of Sunday.

There are 127 resident and 86 staff cases of COVID-19 at Roberta Place. Six residents are also in hospital with the disease. One essential caregiver, three “external partners” and 42 household contacts of primary cases have tested positive for the virus.

The body of a deceased resident of Roberta Place Long Term Care in Barrie, Ont., is removed on Jan. 18. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Laboratory notified health unit about ‘variant of concern’

Gardner said the health unit is seeking direction from Public Health Ontario on how many samples it needs from Bradford Valley Care Community to determine whether the outbreak is due to the variant. The samples would undergo genome sequencing.

He said the health unit investigates all outbreaks in the region, and the laboratory notified the heath unit about the “variant of concern” when it discovered it. He said it was not linked to its investigation of the Roberta Place outbreak.

“In fact, it was a finding that was fortuitous for us,” Gardner said.

“I think that it’s important for people to take to heart the very real possibility that it is circulating in the community right now, if not from this cluster then from other sources,” he said. “I think we need to behave as if it is circulating in the community.”

Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, says: ‘I think that it’s important for people to take to heart the very real possibility that it is circulating in the community right now, if not from this cluster then from other sources.’ (CBC)

In a news release on Sunday, the health unit said the outbreak is “well under control at this time with a relatively low case count,” but the possibility that it may be due to the variant must be assessed and managed.

Dr. Andrea Moser, chief medical officer for Sienna Senior Living, which owns and operates the facility, said in the news release that staff members at the home are working to contain the outbreak.

“We are being extremely vigilant in our monitoring for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and are taking all of the necessary steps to protect the safety of our residents and team members,” Moser said.

“We are working proactively with public health and community partners, as fighting the virus will require everyone’s expertise and teamwork.”  

Staff at home implementing measures to control outbreak

Moser said case and contact measures are being undertaken, including:

  • Extending the length of isolation for cases and close contacts.
  • More readily identifying close contacts.
  • Quarantining all household contacts of confirmed or probable cases as quickly as possible.

The health unit said its staff vaccinated most of the residents in Bradford Valley Care Community on Jan. 15 as a protective measure against COVID-19. 

As of Jan. 16, all residents of long-term care homes in Simcoe Muskoka have been offered their first dose of immunization against COVID-19, the health unit added.

Moser said about 60 per cent of staff members and 96 per cent of residents at Bradford Valley Care Community have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“We appreciate all the efforts from our partners in the community with the rollout of the vaccine and will continue working closely with them as additional doses are available for deployment,” she said.

WATCH | Coronavirus variant already spreading beyond Ont. care home:

The coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. has been found in more than one Ontario long-term care home, and is already potentially spreading. 2:01

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