Mark Clairmont |

SIMCOE-MUSKOKA — Another suspected case of the United Kingdom variant outside Barrie shows “the very real possibility it is circulating in community,” Dr. Charles Gardner  said today.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) was informed late yesterday by Public Health Ontario Laboratory of an additional individual with the United Kingdom (UK) variant of COVID-19 within the region.

They say this individual had close contact with a person who is also part of a COVID-19 outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community, a long-term care home (LTCH) in Bradford West Gwillimbury southeast of Barrie.

As such, SMDHU is currently investigating if this outbreak is also due to the UK variant of COVID-19.

The home is owned by Sienna Senior Living, which owns Muskoka Shores in Gravenhurst where they report a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak declared there Friday, Jan. 22.

Gardner said the latest LTC case in Bradford is in addition to the massive outbreak at Roberta Place in Barrie, which has claimed the lives of 40 people, including seven more residents and a family caregiver since yesterday.

The UK B.1.1.7 variant is more easily transmitted, resulting in much larger numbers of cases in a very rapid fashion.

Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), added in a media Zoom call this afternoon that as a result he’d like to see a more “robust” regimen of wider public testing for the new variant linked to Africa and Brazil.

Right now regular COVID testing does not include the same genome sequencing that identified 127 residents and 86 staff in Barrie and now at Bradford Valley Care Community.

He said it’s safe to “assume” that the variant is responsible for all those cases without the added testing of each person.

And that 42 other cases of COVID identified though primary contacts with those at Roberta Place may be linked.

This after confirmation yesterday that genome sequencing on all six COVID samples from Roberta Place were identified as the UK variant that has proven to be highly contagious and easily transmitted.

“The rapid spread, high attack rate and the devastating impact on residents and staff at Roberta Place long-term care home has been heartbreaking for all,” said Gardner. “Confirmation of the variant, while expected, does not change our course of action. We remain diligent in doing everything we can to prevent further spread.”

He said this resident in Bradford had close contact with a person who is also part of a COVID outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community, a long-term care home (LTCH) in Bradford West Gwillimbury.

Gardner said SMDHU is investigating all other connections to the individual who tested positive for the UK variant, including a curbside-only retail setting and others who may have used the same service.

The outbreak at the Roberta Place long-term care facility — but not at its retirement home next door — was first declared Jan. 8 among all but two residents. In addition, two essential visitors and three external partners have tested positive, one of them dying in the past day.

On Wednesday, the health unit confirmed preliminary lab testing of six cases identified a high likelihood that there was a COVID-19 variant of concern.

The second test results released yesterday — a whole genome sequencing test — determined the exact COVID-19 variant as the UK B.1.1.7 variant.

This variant of concern is more easily transmitted, resulting in much larger numbers of cases in a very rapid fashion.

Yesterday the health unit in partnership with the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre accelerated its immunization program, with its mobile immunization team vaccinating all eligible residents and staff at Roberta Place Retirement Lodge retirement home against COVID-19.

Beginning this weekend, the health unit, in collaboration with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, (RVH) began immunizing residents at the other retirement homes throughout Simcoe Muskoka.

In addition, as of Jan. 16 eligible residents of all long term care facilities in Simcoe Muskoka have received their first dose of immunization against COVID-19.

As for the Bradford cases, Gardner said: “Given this situation, we are working together in partnership with the residence to implement additional measures to contain the spread while pursuing the necessary tests to determine if it is the UK variant of COVID-19 that is the cause of this outbreak.”

The outbreak was declared at Bradford Valley Care Community Jan. 14.

On Saturday, Jan. 23, four of 230 residents and three of 260 staff tested positive for COVID-19 and further testing will be done to determine if this is indeed the UK variant.

He said that while the outbreak is “well under control at this time with a relatively low case count, the possibility of this being due to the UK variant needs to be assessed and managed, given its increased transmissibility.”

Dr. Andrea Moser, Sienna Senior Living chief medical officer for the chain of homes, said in the health unit release today: “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. We are working proactively with Public Health and community partners as fighting the virus will require everyone’s expertise and teamwork.”

On Jan. 15 most of the residents in Bradford Valley Care Community were provided with vaccination by SMDHU staff as a protective measure against COVID-19.

SMDHU says on Jan. 16 residents of all the LTCHs in Simcoe Muskoka were offered their first dose of immunization against COVID-19. Although many of the staff have received their first vaccination, steps are being taken to ensure that all of them will have access to the vaccine at this time.

“Approximately 60 percent of team members and 96 per cent of residents at Bradford Valley have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine,” said Moser. “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.”

The health unit says everyone is reminded to continue to strictly follow public health measures to reduce and prevent transmission of the virus: wear a mask, physically distance from those outside your household, wash your hands frequently, leave your home only for essential reasons (in keeping with the provincial Stay at Home Order), and if you have symptoms self-isolate at home and get tested for COVID-19.”

For more information, visit SMDHU’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Immunization web page or call Health Connection to speak with a public health professional weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 705-721-7520 (1-877-721-7520). More information about the vaccine and immunization can also be found at

Bradford Valley Care Community is the latest site under investigation today for the UK COVID-19 variant.

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