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The Canadian Press

COVID-19 variant linked to care home in Waterloo, Ont., officials expect more cases

Officials in Waterloo, Ont., braced for an influx of more infectious COVID-19 cases over the weekend after reporting its first local instance of a new variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom. A Region of Waterloo Public Health investigation has traced the patient to another person who travelled internationally, and to a long-term care home outbreak in the region. “We do expect further cases will be identified as more variant testing is completed by Public Health Ontario,” read a Saturday statement from the municipality. The case was identified on Friday, with public health noting that the woman’s illness is considered resolved. On Saturday, the region said the variant case has been connected to a COVID-19 outbreak declared at Columbia Forest long-term care home late in December. Provincial data as of Sunday reported fewer than five cases among staff and residents at the facility, where the outbreak is still considered active. The region’s top doctor said the arrival of the variant is not unexpected given confirmation of its presence elsewhere in the province. Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said continued adherence to public health guidance is still the best defense against the virus. “What this means for Waterloo Region is that we must not let up our guard with respect to public health measures. What we have been doing are the same measures we need to employ against this variant,” Wang said in a statement. Officials have said the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the U.K. last year, is more contagious and may cause more severe illness. Public Health Ontario had confirmed 58 cases of the variant in the province as it continues to ramp up genomic testing for B.1.1.7 and two other COVID-19 strains deemed “variants of concern.” Haldimand-Norfolk was added to the list of health units with a confirmed case of the U.K. variant on Sunday. Only the U.K. variant has been confirmed in Ontario , and a number of regional health officials have said they suspect the number of such cases is higher than the confirmed total. Public health officials in Barrie, Ont., have said the strain was behind a deadly outbreak in a long-term care home that has killed more than 45 people and infected more than 200 others. The variant has been linked to other outbreaks at a hospital and another care home in the area. Ontario reported 1,848 more cases of COVID-19 and 43 additional deaths from the virus on Sunday. A data catchup at Toronto Public Health likely inflated the daily total by about 300 cases, according to Health Minister Christine Elliott. The province reported 1,159 people were hospitalized with the virus as of Sunday. Of those patients, 356 were in intensive care and 252 were on ventilators. The province said 2,816 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered since the last daily update, for a total of 339,644 administered across the province. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2021. Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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