Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health have provided further information about a case of a new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7, detected in the region.
During an interview on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore clarified that the individual had tested positive for COVID-19 weeks ago, and has since recovered.
“Genetic sequencing for the variant takes several weeks,” Dr. Moore said.
“I got a call on Sunday that we had identified this B.1.1.7 in our community. It was part of an ongoing investigation in a different part of the province, in the Simcoe-Muskoka area. There was an outbreak going on and it had been found that one of our positive cases had been linked there.”
The individual acquired the infection when travelling to the Simcoe-Muskoka area for work, Dr. Moore said. Despite a close proximity to the Roberta Place retirement home in Barrie, where this week every resident is presumed to be infected with the COVID-19 variant in question, Dr. Moore said there is no connection.
He said the local case of the variant did spread to four other members of that individual’s household, but they have all since resolved. In the interest of protecting that person’s privacy, he would not provide any further details on the date.
“It was limited and controlled, and we’re confident that that one case has not spread further in the community,” he said. “We are lucky that that individual did not work in a long-term care or healthcare setting. Those settings clearly are more vulnerable to spread. It’s our opinion now that this is under control.”
Provincially, Dr. Moore estimates that less than one per cent of COVID-19 cases are being tested for the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K., because of the time and special laboratory facilities required. As such, only one of those five suspected variant cases in KFL&A was lab-confirmed.
“Because of the cost of it and the sophistication in the testing, you can’t do all samples,” he explained. “We also know that they’re prioritizing international travellers. About 2.5 per cent of people returning to Canada, despite testing negative prior to getting on the plane, are testing positive here. Those samples will be prioritized.”
Out of an abundance of caution, Dr. Moore said KFL&A Public Health will proceed to treat every case of COVID-19 as if it could be the new variant, which is more transmissible, and potentially more deadly.
“We’ll be very aggressive in our outbreak management, we will treat most contacts as high-risk contacts and follow them closely,” he said. “We will be aggressive trying to limit the spread not just of COVID, but of any other variants in our community.”
“These variants in England…have been associated with more virulence and potential increased mortality,” he added. “That’s certain, that we don’t want that variant to get into any of our congregate settings.”
“Kingston’s industry is congregate settings,” Dr. Moore said. “It’s healthcare, prisons, long-term care and retirement homes, and universities and colleges.”
KFL&A Public Health began an asymptomatic testing initiative this week, asking anyone who has travelled outside the region in the past 14 days, had visitors, or recently moved here, to go to the COVID-19 Assessment Centre.
“Our Assessment Centres are nearing full, people are coming forward and heeding our advice. It’s brilliant,” Dr. Moore said. “It just reminds me what a great community we have.”
Dr. Moore said samples will not be submitted for molecular analysis, to detect a variant, unless they are connected to other known outbreaks or regions where the variant is circulating widely.