Leadership and front-line staff with the Northwestern Health Unit are continuing to look into how the Brazil Variant of Concern of COVID-19 made its way into the region.

During her weekly conference with regional media members, Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, offered more details on the health unit’s ongoing investigation into the now-resolved case in the Dryden area.

“What we know about this case, is that it does not appear to have spread to other individuals in our catchment area. This case potentially could have acquired that variant outside of our catchment area, because of travel associated with that particular case.”

Preliminary evidence suggests the Brazil variant can spread around 40 percent faster than the standard strain of COVID-19, can more easily overcome the immunity of previously infected individuals, and is considered more lethal.

Ontario reports a total of 1,069 cases of the Brazil P.1 Variant of Concern as of May 7, 2021. It was first detected in January in four Japanese travellers who had returned from Brazil’s Amazon region.

Since January of 2021, the NWHU has confirmed 56 variants of concern cases of COVID-19 locally.

“Most of the variants of concern within the Northwestern Health Unit are the UK variant,” explains Young Hoon. “That variant is concerning as it increases the risk of death and the risk of being admitted into an intensive care unit.”

The UK Variant is believed to be roughly 55 percent deadlier than earlier versions of COVID-19. Ontario reports a total of 86,846 cases of the UK B.1.1.7 Variant of Concern as of May 7, 2021.

The Northwestern Health Unit notes cases of the UK variant have been reported across the region, being found in Sioux Lookout, Dryden, Kenora, Fort Frances and Atikokan.

“Likely, Variants of Concern are contributing to our increase in numbers,” adds Young Hoon. “They are more transmissible. When public health measures aren’t being followed, they affect a larger number of people than what we’ve seen previously.”

There have also been 367 cases of the B.1.351 Variant of Concern in Ontario, originating from South Africa.

Staff note every positive COVID-19 test result is tested for any variants, and cases are often no longer infectious by the time results are known. As a result, all our cases are treated as variants of concern.

“Some samples, however, don’t have enough virus in them to be able to do that additional screening test to determine if its a variant. So, roughly about 10 percent [of tests], depending on the sample, is where we get no result from the screening test,” adds Young Hoon.

Everyone is asked to continue following all public health measures and to stay home, self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known. You’re reminded you are still vulnerable after receiving one or both doses of your COVID-19 vaccine.