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U.K. variant of COVID-19 confirmed in massive outbreak at Barrie long-term care home

Last Updated Jan 23, 2021 at 6:05 pm EDT

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at Roberta Place Long-Term Care in Barrie, ON on Jan. 8, 2021. GOOGLE STREET VIEW

The Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit has confirmed the U.K. variant of COVID-19 is present in a Barrie long-term care home that has experienced one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in the province.

Genome sequencing on six samples confirmed the presence of the highly contagious and easily transmitted variant at Roberta Place.

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.

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

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 U.K.’s chief scientist said Friday that the variant may carry a higher risk of death than the original strain, but the data is still uncertain.

The Red Cross was deployed to the Barrie home on Jan. 17 in order to support in the home’s efforts to stop the ongoing outbreak.

Minister of Long-term Care Merrilee Fullerton said earlier this week they are working closely with all partners to “ensure the home has the staffing support it needs to contain the spread of this terrible virus.”

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.

The health unit says, as of January 16, all eligible residents in long-term care facilities in Simcoe Muskoka have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

RELATED: Doctor volunteering at Barrie LTC home during outbreak wants more provincial help

One of the several doctors volunteering at Roberta Place, Dr. Kelley Wright told CityNews earlier this week, she believes the province should be taking a larger role in coordinating efforts at LTC homes ravaged by the COVID-19 virus.

She believes a provincial task force should be set up that would deploy services to LTC homes dealing with outbreaks.

Earlier this month, the St. George Care Community in Toronto was believed to be the worst hit in Ontario, reporting that 97 of their 140 residents were infected at some point during their outbreak. The facility, like Roberta Place, is a for-profit home.