Region of Waterloo Public Health reports first case of U.K. COVID-19 variant
KITCHENER -- The first case of the U.K. COVID-19 variant has been detected in Waterloo Region.
According to a news release from Region of Waterloo Public Health on Friday, the variant was identified in a woman in her 30s.
Public Health Ontario has been doing testing for COVID-19 variants and notified officials in Waterloo Region on Thursday night.
"They took all the positive islets from one day and they're subjecting all of them to analysis to see if any of them are variants," explains Dr. Gerad Evans, an infectious disease expert with Queens University.
The news release said that the woman's illness has been resolved, but public health officials are completing a more detailed investigation into the case and her contacts.
On Saturday, the region sent out another news release stating the woman in question had close contact with someone who travelled internationally and that her case was connected to the outbreak at Columbia Forest Long Term Care Home in Waterloo.
Officials say the outbreak, which was declared on New Year's Eve, is well controlled and that their investigation did not identify an increased risk to the community or the long term care home.
Revera, the company that runs the home, says the woman is a staff member there.
In a news release, they add that there are two active cases among residents in Columbia Forest and 13 staff members have tested positive since the outbreak began.
Revera management says all residents who wanted and were able to get a vaccine have received their first dose and that staff vaccinations are ongoing.
Regional health officials have called on Public Health Ontario in their Saturday news release to test the individual who travelled.
During a media briefing on Friday morning, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang explained the process to test for variants can take a while. She noted that the public health lab system has been working on scaling up to monitor and detect these new variants.
In some cases, after a test is processed to confirm a positive or negative case, it can take more than a week before testing results for a variant are returned to public health.
"There may be ongoing community transmission," said Evans. "It's just they don't have answers yet based on the testing."
In the Friday news release, public health officials said that it's "not unexpected" that the variant has been detected in the region.
"We expect further cases to be identified as more variant testing is completed by Public Health Ontario."
Data suggests that this COVID-19 variant, first identified in the U.K. and known as B.1.1.7, is more transmissible. There are also concerns that it could lead to more severe illness.
Public health officials across the province have identified 51 cases of the U.K. variant to date. On Friday, Dr. Wang said that modelling shows the U.K. variant is likely to become the dominant variant by March.
So far, there is no evidence to suggest that the approved COVID-19 vaccines will be any less effective against the variant, officials said.
"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," Dr. Wang said in the news release.
"Our continued commitment to public health measures is the best way to protect ourselves and loved ones against the spread of COVID-19, including the spread of the U.K. variant."
Public health officials are reminding residents to limit non-essential trips, to avoid social gatherings with those outside your immediate household and to continue practicing public health guidelines.
In a media briefing on Friday, Dr. Wang said that residents can slow spread and reduce case rates by following those guidelines.
"Our challenge is not over," she said.
There have been more than 9,000 cases of COVID-19 in Waterloo Region since the pandemic began. Of those, more than 600 are active. Nearly 200 people have died from the disease to date.
"Those driving down of cases will prevent the variant from getting a foothold," said Evans. "If it doesn't get a foothold in the community, we're going to be in good shape."
With reporting from CTV Kitchener's Zayn Jinah