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COVID-19 variant screening requested before provincial changes: health unit

Enhanced measures put in place after a positive screening for a potential variant
COVID-19 Assessment
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Ahead of provincial changes for COVID-19 variant screening, the Porcupine Health Unit (PHU) had requested screening for some of its positive test results.

Yesterday, the local health unit reported a possible COVID-19 variant of concern had been identified. It is linked to a positive test at Extendicare Kapuskasing, where an outbreak was declared Jan. 7. Dozens of residents and staff have tested positive and 11 residents have died.

As of Feb. 3, the province started screening all positive COVID-19 tests for variants.

The health unit "did request screening for the variant of positive test results" before that announcement, according to Nicole Ethier, PHU foundational standards program co-ordinator. She could not confirm how many positive tests were sent for variant screening prior to the provincial changes.

"At this time, we have been advised of one positive screening for our region but further testing is needed to confirm the results, and if confirmed, to identify the exact variant. With the potential presence of a variant in our region, enhanced measures have been put in place including increased testing of contacts," said Ethier.

The first confirmed variant case in Northern Ontario was reported yesterday by the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit.

Public Health Sudbury and Districts has confirmed one case of the UK variant (B.1.1.7.) as well as three possible COVID-19 variants.

Today, Public Health Ontario reported 155 cases of the UK variant in its daily update. There is also one confirmed case of the South African variant (B.1.251) in the province. 

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has the highest variant case count for the new strains. Its district includes Barrie and Simcoe County, as well as Muskoka, and now has 92 confirmed cases of the UK variant. The cases are connected to outbreaks at Roberta Place Long-Term Care, Bradford Valley Community Care, and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health.

To date, there have been 289 COVID-19 cases in the Porcupine Health Unit region. Of those, 193 are recovered and 20 people have died. There are 76 known active cases.

There are COVID-19 assessment centres in Timmins, Cochrane, Iroquois Falls, Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Hearst, and Hornepayne. 

The Porcupine Health Unit COVID-19 information line can be reached at 705-267-1181 or 1-800-461-1818.