There is now evidence a COVID-19 variant has reached Simcoe County and may have led to the devastating outbreak at Roberta Place in south-end Barrie that has now claimed 19 lives.
Laboratory testing has identified a COVID variant in six swabs from the Essa Road long-term care home.
The variant strain testing is a two-part test. At this time, the first test indicates a "very high probability" that they are of a variant strain of concern. The second part of the test is a whole genome sequencing test to determine the exact strain. The results are expected in the next three to four days.
“This is important information that helps to explain just how rapidly this outbreak has unfolded,” Dr. Charles Gardner said in a media briefing late Wednesday afternoon. “This virus is very tenacious.”
As of Wednesday at 3 p.m., there are 122 residents who have tested positive for the virus in the facility, according to the health unit and Roberta Place officials. There are also 69 positive cases among staff, and two cases in essential visitors. The six possible variant cases are included in those numbers.
Nineteen people have died.
The long-term care home has 137 beds and 122 staff.
Gardner said the spread at Roberta Place happened over the course of essentially one weekend, and the original source of transmission is still unclear.
While Gardner said there is some evidence it was travel-related, he said the one case possibly related to travel did not travel to the United Kingdom. The doctor declined to provide further details on transmission sources, citing privacy concerns.
While vaccinations have taken place at the home, Gardner said individuals who are already infected cannot get the vaccine, so only a limited number of residents and staff were eligible.
“The use of immunization to arrest an outbreak is a relatively new option and we don’t know how well it would work,” he said. “However, we feel it was certainly worth doing, although the impact would be limited.”
Gardner said the province has now seen 15 possible cases of the UK variant across Ontario.
“We know from research that it is more communicable, and has become a dominant strain in the UK. It has the potential to increase the spread in the community and therefore, the number of people who can be seriously ill,” he said. “We need to be very careful about it.
“Seeing it spread in this facility this quickly is a concern,” Gardner added.
David Jarlette, president of Jarlette Health Services, which operates Roberta Place, said staffing is also a concern.
“At this time, we are staffed and we are able to make basic needs, but staffing is tenuous,” said Jarlette.
Gardner added that community partners have come together to provide additional staffing resources to the home.
Red Cross, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre and Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital workers have also been in the Roberta Place facility assisting with the outbreak, while the County of Simcoe has been providing expertise with regards to infection control. Simcoe County Paramedics Services have also been helping out with immunization efforts at the home.
— With files from Shawn Gibson