Despite the end of Ontario’s stay-at-home orders, residents are asked to continue avoiding all non-essential travel for the foreseeable future.
“There are variants of concern in other regions, including Sudbury, North Bay and Timiskaming. It’s important for people to realize that avoiding non-essential travel reduces the likelihood of introducing those variants to our region,” explained Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon.
“Even though at this point cases appear to be coming down, things appear to be improving and restrictions will be lifted, it’s really important for people to realize the risk is still there and it could get worse.”
The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit confirmed the first case of a COVID-19 variant on February 4, the first variant found in Northern Ontario, after international travel.
“If a variant were to enter our region, it’s very challenging to control its spread. It’s a lot more transmissible, and the incubation period is very, very short. One of the key ways to manage the spread, is preventing it from coming into our region,” adds Young Hoon.
The UK variant has been confirmed to be the cause of an outbreak at a long-term care home in Barrie. Within 48 hours of the first positive test result in a staff member, there were 55 other cases within the facility. There have been 229 cases out of 230 residents and staff since, as well 66 deaths.
“Despite loosening restrictions, if we want to avoid going into shutdown again, follow public health measures as best as you can. Keep that physical distance of two meters away. Socialize outdoors more than indoors. Use good hand hygiene. And if you’re sick, stay home and get tested.”
To help combat the spread of any variants, all of Ontario’s positive COVID-19 tests will now be screened for known variants. The province has found over 100 confirmed cases of the UK variant and a case of the South African variant strain in their testing.
Locally, Young Hoon says no variants of the virus have been found, but positive COVID-19 test results in the area will be sent to provincial labs to detect any variants, which takes three to four days.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been in contact with a suspected or confirmed case of the virus, you’re asked to self-isolate, get tested immediately, and remain in isolation until your test results are known, and you receive further direction from public health staff.