Public health officials say 99 more people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Simcoe-Muskoka region likely have the U.K. variant of the virus — which is more contagious and transmissible.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) says most of the cases are linked to a deadly outbreak at Roberta Place Long-Term Care home in Barrie, that has killed 46 people and infected more than 200. The U.K. variant has already been identified in some of those infected in that outbreak.
But two of the new cases have no known link, including one that’s part of a small outbreak at a regional hospital.
“This certainly makes us concerned that the variant may be more widespread, and that in turn means that we need to really take public health measures that prevent spread of the virus much more to heart,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the SMDHU, in a release on Tuesday. He said if the variant isn’t already spreading in the community, it likely will be soon.
These probable cases are in addition to seven cases of the U.K. variant in the region, confirmed earlier via genome testing.
Six of those cases are people associated with the outbreak at Roberta Place. One case is a person who had close contact with someone who is also part of the outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community, a long-term care home (LTCH) in Bradford West Gwillimbury.
The health unit is currently investigating if that outbreak is also due to the U.K. variant of COVID-19.
The latest data came from an ongoing study by Public Health Ontario that’s screening all positive COVID-19 tests from Jan. 20 for three new variants of the virus.
Local health officials say they are still waiting for results that will identify which variant of the virus has infected the 99 people, but note that they expect it to be a variant first identified in the U.K.