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Health Unit sending 110 more swabs to be tested for COVID variant strain

There are ten confirmed UK variant cases in Simcoe County, and another 105 that have screened positive for a variant of concern
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Dr. Colin Lee fields questions from the media during an update on Jan. 29.

Swab tests from five residents at Bradford Valley Care Community have screened positive for a COVID-19 variant of concern. 

There’s one more step in the two-test process to determine if those residents have the UK strain of the virus.

Two staff members at Bradford Valley have been confirmed positive with the UK variant (B.1.1.7), which caused the outbreak at Roberta Place long-term care facility in Barrie. 

Dr. Colin Lee, associate medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the UK strain has spread its “tentacles” into second and third generations of infection. 

There are 10 fully-confirmed cases of B.1.1.7 in the region and another 105 cases have “screened positive” for a variant of concern (including the Bradford Valley residents). Those cases will undergo the second part of the test to confirm which variant it is. 

The health unit has also sent an additional 110 swabs for variant testing. Those results have not come back yet. 

“What we’re doing is looking at outbreaks in institutions and sending some of those samples,” said Lee. “We don’t have the opportunity right now to send every positive sample.”

The health unit has been sending swabs for variant testing where there is a known link to other confirmed or screened positive cases, and in situations where there are vulnerable populations, such as at hospitals or long-term care homes in outbreak, particularly in the Bradford and Barrie areas. 

“We want to know as soon as possible,” said Dr. Lee, noting the variant strain testing takes several days. “But we don’t wait for those results to act.” 

The UK variant cases in the region are linked back to the outbreak at Roberta Place. A staff member tested positive for COVID and an outbreak was declared on Jan. 8. Further investigation revealed that staff member likely contracted it from a household member who had travelled. The household member was self-isolating. 

Since then, all but two of the 105 cases that “screened positive” and the ten cases confirmed positive for the variant can be linked to cases involved in the Roberta Place outbreak, though they can be about three generations removed from the outbreak, according to Dr. Lee. 

There are two cases without a link to Roberta Place, which is unchanged from the first round of ten positive UK variant tests. 

“That would represent our concern that there is transmission within the community that is still unknown,” said Lee. “We want to keep that number as low as possible so we’re watching that.” 

The health unit has now confirmed UK variant strain cases at Roberta Place, Bradford Valley, and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health in Penetanguishene. 

Bradford Valley long-term care home entered an outbreak on Jan. 14, and has had ten confirmed resident cases and three confirmed staff cases. Two staff have recovered. 

Roberta Place entered an outbreak on Jan. 8, the health unit has reported 128 resident cases and 83 staff cases as well as ten more cases of staff who were called in from other sources to help during the outbreak, for a total of 227 cases associated with the Roberta Place outbreak. 

“To fight against the variant is really the exact same things we are doing, except that we need to be more vigilant,” said Lee, noting physical distancing, staying home except for essential trips, using face coverings, and washing your hands. “It’s never going to be 100 per cent. The problem is this variant is very stealthy.” 

Public Health Ontario has reported 51 double-tested and confirmed cases of the UK variant in the province to date.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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