BARRIE, ONT. --
Public health officials confirm a new, more easily transmissible variant of COVID-19 first identified in the United Kingdom has torn through Roberta Place Long-Term Care in Barrie, sickening all but two of its residents and killing 41 people.
Genome sequencing identified the U.K. B.1.1.7 variant in six swabs taken from the facility. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit all cases at Roberta Place are likely a result of the U.K. variant.
Officials said 127 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. By Sunday afternoon, 40 of those residents had died. One of two infected essential visitors has also died.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner said Sunday that 86 employees of the home, which is roughly half of the staff, have contracted the virus since Jan. 8. Three external partners and 42 household contacts of primary cases have also tested positive.
Confirmation of the U.K. variant inside Roberta Place profoundly concerns to Gardner.
"What we have here, we probably won't be able to contain. And therefore it becomes a risk to the broader community and other facilities."
He warns the region is "on the edge" of seeing community spread of the variant and is open to the possibility of more specialized testing to detect it.
Roberta Place's first positive case was in a staff member who'd had close contact with someone who recently travelled, though not to the U.K. While officials will not reveal the relationship between the staff member and the traveller, Gardner said the traveller made efforts to isolate within a shared home and that no quarantine rules were broken.
Fifty-five cases of COVID-19 were identified in the first 48 hours of the outbreak.
The rapid rise in cases meant many symptomatic staff members had to stay home. David Jarlette, President of Jarlette Health Services, said that left Roberta Place too short-handed to separate infected and non-infected residents properly.
"The virus came into the home so quickly...we found ourselves not to have the staffing resources in order to cohort in a quick and timely fashion."
Roberta Place is under the temporary management of Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital. The home has been receiving supports from other agencies, including the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH), Georgian College nursing students, and the Canadian Red Cross.
The provincial government has dismissed calls to deploy the military, insisting that there isn't the same sort of staffing concern experienced at long-term care homes in the pandemic's first wave.
Residents and staff at Roberta Place Retirement Lodge, which neighbours the long-term care home, received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses. Friday. No cases of the virus have been identified at the retirement home.
Gardner said that on a call Saturday with Retired General Rick Hillier, who is overseeing Ontario's vaccination effort, he made a case for Simcoe Muskoka to be prioritized in the delivery of new vaccines.