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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday, Dec. 31 –



The latest:

  • The province said in an online-only update released Thursday that an estimated 1,200 new cases have been confirmed out of 16,900 lab tests, making for a positivity rate of seven per cent.
  • Case numbers will be updated-online only on Monday. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, will next speak Tuesday.
  • On Wednesday, the province said that more than 100,000 Albertans have now tested positive for COVID-19 as an additional 1,287 people tested positive.
  • As of Wednesday, Alberta has 14,555 active COVID-19 cases — down from 14,828 the previous day —and there have been a total of 100,428 cases during the pandemic. The positivity rate was 8.7 per cent.
  • Hospitalizations continue to increase, but more slowly in recent days. There are 769 people in non-ICU hospital care, plus another 152 in intensive care — for a total of 921 that has been steady for two days.
  • Another 18 have died for a total of 1,046 deaths. The average number of deaths per day has been trending sharply down since Dec. 27.
  • Alberta will miss its goal of vaccinating 29,000 people by the end of the year, as it was on track to vaccinate just 7,000 by end of day Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday.
  • Kenney said Alberta Health Services had been holding back some vaccines for a second dose but will now move forward to vaccinate as many people as possible to catch up. In mid-December, Health Minister Tyler Shandro had said no doses would be withheld.
  • Retired nurses and student nurses will also be brought in to help speed up the rate of vaccinations.
  • 16,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine have now arrived in Alberta and the first dose was given to a resident of the Riverview Care Centre in Medicine Hat on Wednesday. 
  • Alberta is the first province to officially say the NHL can play games in its arenas for the upcoming season.
  • The 2020 tax season will look different for many Albertans, financial experts say.  For many, the pandemic changed their job situation, the source of their income and introduced unexpected expenses like medical or childcare.
  • Here are more of the latest Alberta stories:

What you need to know today in Alberta

Dr. Deena Hinshaw tweeted the latest estimated COVID-19 numbers on Thursday, saying there are roughly 1,200 new cases of the virus in the province, based on 16,900 tests, for a positivity rate of seven per cent. While Hinshaw did not provide exact numbers, she said hospitalizations are increasing and the number of people being treated in ICU is stable.

Another preliminary update will be provided on Jan 1. Hinshaw’s next live update is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 5.

More than 100,000 Albertans have tested positive for COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic. 

Hinshaw said earlier in the week that declining case numbers are in part due to fewer tests, and hospitalizations and the positivity rate have remained high. 

There are 921 people in hospital, 152 in intensive care, and another 18 have died for a total of 1,046 deaths.

Elias Lindholm #28 of the Calgary Flames scores a goal on Mike Smith #41 of the Edmonton Oilers during the second period in an exhibition game on July 28. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Alberta is the first province to officially say the NHL can play games in its arenas for the upcoming season.

In a statement to The Canadian Press on Thursday, the Alberta government said it approved Edmonton and Calgary for competition on Dec. 25 following the review of protocols outlined in the league’s return-to-play plan, along with some additional enhancements.

That confirmation is the first from any of the five provinces with NHL teams since deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated on Dec. 24 that the league believes it can play games in all seven Canadian markets.

The Canadian teams will only play each other during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs as part of a newly formed North Division, and won’t be crossing the border with the United States, which remains closed to non-essential travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta will not meet its goal to vaccinate 29,000 people by the end of 2020, government officials acknowledged on Tuesday. 

The province is on track to vaccinate 7,000 people by end-of-day Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said, with about 4,000 more vaccinations expected to take place over the next few days. 

But that’s well short of the original promise of 29,000.

Kenney said that Alberta Health Services (AHS) had been holding back some vaccines for a second dose but will now move forward to vaccinate as many people as possible to catch up, including scheduling vaccinations on New Year’s Day. Retired nurses and students will also be brought in to help speed up the rate of vaccinations.

However, in mid-December, Health Minister Tyler Shandro had said no doses would be withheld.

Alberta has now received 16,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage. That means it can be offered more easily to residents at continuing care facilities. It will be delivered to sites in Calgary, St. Paul, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Red Deer and Edmonton, as well as six on-reserve First Nation living facilities. 

After residents and staff of long-term care and supportive living facilities, immunization will focus on seniors age 75 and over, and residents age 65 and over of First Nations and Metis communities. 

How did things go so wrong, so quickly in Alberta? It’s all about exponential growth, notes CBC investigative journalist Robson Fletcher. 

Early on in 2020, Alberta was getting accustomed to looking across the country and feeling pride in its successful pandemic response, but now the province finds itself in uncharted territory. After keeping the disease relatively at bay for months, deferred decisions late in the year led to an unprecedented amount of illness and death.

In the spring, the province boasted about its low hospitalization rate, its nation-leading testing and how it had quadrupled its ranks of contact tracers.

Come winter, Alberta had the highest hospitalization rate in the country and test-positivity rates that were nearing 10 per cent. Thousands of people were told to do their own contact tracing after the provincial system was overwhelmed.

Medical experts and mathematicians tried to sound the alarm nearly two months ago about the trajectory the province was on. But the government was reluctant to impose new restrictions on Albertans’ liberties and economic activity. It rebuffed repeated calls for stricter public-health measures — for a time.

Meanwhile, the exponential growth continued unabated, with the number of new daily cases doubling every two to three weeks. Whether in response to the physicians’ warnings, or the fact that new case numbers were approaching the psychological barrier of 2,000 per day, the government eventually did act.

But by that time, the hospitalizations and deaths the province is now experiencing had been essentially baked in. Daily case counts have mercifully started to ebb, but the glut of disease that built up weeks ago is still filling more hospital beds and claiming more lives than Alberta has seen at any other point in the pandemic.

Newlyweds Anistasia Mechefske and Chris Hibberd, pictured left, emerge from their wedding venue Flores & Pine in Bearspaw as guests applaud from the parking lot, pictured right. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

In a year of cancelled plans and postponed events,a Calgary couple decided to keep their wedding date despite COVID-19 restrictions by making it a drive-in event. 

After a year-and-a-half of wedding planning, Chris Hibberd and Anistasia Mechefske were supposed to be married in front of 150 guests on Wednesday.

Unfortunately for the couple, the pandemic threatened to derail their plans, but they eventually decided to get married anyway — and still found a way to include family and friends.

Hibberd and Mechefske were married in a masked 10-person ceremony at Flores & Pine restaurant in Bearspaw on Wednesday — while 28 cars full of wedding guests caught the ceremony on Zoom in the parking lot outside.

After a disastrous 2020, the Calgary Stampede is touting the slogan “we’ll ride again.” But there are still plenty of unknowns.

Just like the rest of the world, the organization was figuratively bucked off and stomped by a virus in 2020.

The president of the Calgary Stampede and chairman of its board of directors, Dana Peers, said talks with the federal and provincial governments on a financial aid package have not reached any conclusions.

“They’re certainly aware that we’re struggling as an organization and that we’re challenged just like everyone else is,” said Peers.

He says conversations are ongoing with the federal and provincial governments.

“They recognize certainly that we’re a unique organization. To date, there hasn’t really been any assistance programs that fit the Calgary Stampede and I really don’t know where those conversations will go in the future.”

Attendance was up at this year’s Stampede, but didn’t break through the all-time record from 2012. (John Gibson/CBC)

Going through a pregnancy during the isolation of the pandemic has been emotionally and physically exhausting for many Alberta women.

And nearly 10 months after Alberta’s first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed, mothers across the province are giving birth to what some have dubbed the coronial generation.

Kennedy Amyotte’s first-born child will open her eyes to the world and see her mother’s face behind a mask.

For Amyotte, pregnancy during the isolation of the pandemic has been emotionally and physically exhausting. She spent weeks in quarantine following a COVID-19 diagnosis last month and wonders how she and her husband, Shane Flamond, will navigate parenthood in the uncertain months ahead.

Amyotte expects to tell her daughter about it someday, years down the road. 

“I’ll tell her exactly how it is,” she said. “It was a very lonely and isolating time to bring you into the world.”

Amyotte’s daughter will be among the first in a wave of children conceived during the pandemic, and born just as the province shuts down again amid escalating caseloads.

“I’m actually really thankful that she’s not going to have a memory of this,” Amyotte, 30, said from her Edmonton home. 

(Kennedy Amyotte/Facebook)

Alberta Health Services ordered a restaurant to close to in-person dining last week after an inspector reported finding people from different households sitting near each other, enjoying a self-service buffet and alcohol.

But the manager of Little Tavern Pizza Project, in the southwest Calgary neighbourhood of Strathcona Park, says it was actually a staff meeting. 

“We never offered dine-in service to anyone from the 13th on,” said Keith Luce. 

The province had ordered restaurants and pubs to close their dining rooms on Dec. 13, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta. 

Luce said the buffet the health inspector witnessed was a meal served for recently laid-off staff and was a chance to test new menu items.

“We were trying to make good on a bad situation,” he said. 

Remembering some of the Albertans who have been identified as killed by COVID-19:

The winter holidays are usually the busiest season for air travel. But this year, about 80 per cent fewer travellers will pass through the doors of the Calgary International Airport in late December, according to the airport authority’s spokesperson.

About 50,000 travellers take off from or land at Calgary International Airport per day during the holiday season in an average year, said Reid Feist, spokesperson for the Calgary Airport Authority.

But this year, the holidays fall amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many jurisdictions have discouraged all non-essential to prevent further spread of the illness. As a result, the airport authority predicted that only about 10,000 travellers would go through the Calgary airport “for the period before Christmas all the way through New Year’s,” said Feist.

“For those who have to travel for essential travel reasons, the airport remains open. And of course, our focus is on everyone’s safety as they move through the airport or arrive at the airport,” he said.

The Calgary airport is facing a $67-million deficit this year thanks to the unprecedented drop in demand for air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A passenger sits at the Calgary Airport on Oct. 30 amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. As of Thursday, the province said 14,382 travellers had taken tests in a pilot project for international travellers at the Calgary airport. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews says the goal in 2021 is to get vaccines out and put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear-view mirror, then work to fix a battered and beleaguered economy.

But with a $21-billion deficit and Alberta’s oil and gas economy still in flux, where’s the money going to come from?

“We will not cut our way out of a $21-billion deficit,” Toews said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press. “We have to get the economy growing again. And economic recovery will very quickly become job No. 1 as we start to get past the pandemic.”

At the start of 2020, Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government was busy trying to resuscitate an already suffering economy only to see COVID-19 blow everything apart and take with it Kenney’s key election promise to balance the deficit in his first term.

That goal is now a distant memory with a projected budget deficit this year tripling an original forecast of $6.8 billion. COVID-19 has slashed demand for energy, shuttered businesses and necessitated relief aid and job supports to keep people going.

Finance Minister Travis Toews said economic recovery will be a top priority for the province in 2021 after pandemic recovery. (Trevor Wilson/CBC )

Click on the map below to zoom in or out on specific local geographic areas in Alberta and find out more about COVID-19 there:

Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases updated as of Wednesday.

  • Calgary zone: 5,129, down from 5,244 reported on Tuesday (33,152 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 6,624, down from 6,701 (36,165 recovered).
  • North zone: 1,031, down from 1,034 (5,752 recovered).
  • South zone: 296, down from 302 (4,629 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 1,430 down from 1,466 (4,995 recovered).
  • Unknown: 45, up from 38 (134 recovered).

Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean

What you need to know today in Canada:

International travellers flying into Canada will soon be required to have a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight as part of efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. The government promises details will come soon, but says the testing won’t replace a mandatory 14-day quarantine. 1:53

As of early Thursday morning, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 572,982, with 73,434 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,471. 

Ontario’s finance minister has resigned following a return to Canada from a controversial Caribbean vacation during strict provincewide lockdown measures that urged Ontarians to avoid non-essential travel, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.

Rod Phillips said he deeply apologizes for his decision to travel abroad during this time and that there is nobody to blame but himself. He called the trip a “dumb, dumb mistake.”

“Obviously, I made a significant error in judgment, and I will be accountable for that,” Phillips said from Pearson airport in Toronto on Thursday.

“I do not make any excuses for the fact that I travelled when we shouldn’t have travelled.”

Premier Doug Ford said that he told the minister his decision to travel was “completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again — by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus.”

Ontario, which went into lockdown on Dec. 26, is advising against non-essential travel. 

Ontario and Quebec reported record high COVID-19 case numbers again on Thursday, with Ontario becoming the first province in the country to report more than 3,000 cases in a single day.

Ontario reported 3,328 new infections and 56 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,530.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is expected to provide more details Thursday about the new requirement for air passengers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering Canada. Cabinet ministers announced Wednesday that air passengers will soon need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in the country.

Under the new rule, travellers must receive a negative result on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test — the standard nose swab test for detecting active COVID-19 infections — within 72 hours of boarding a flight back to Canada.

But many details — including the date the new rule will be in force and whether or how it could affect Alberta’s testing pilot program — were still being sorted out when the policy was announced this week.

Quebec reported 2,819 new cases of COVID-19 and 62 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 1,175 with 165 people in the province’s intensive care units, according to a provincial dashboard.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick added one new case; Prince Edward Island announced two, both travel-related; two Canadian Coast Guard vessels are docked in Dartmouth, N.S., after crews were exposed to people who tested positive; and Newfoundland and Labrador‘s active caseload remains at 18 after reporting no new infections.

In the North, the first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Nunavut on Wednesday, on a scheduled Canadian North flight, though it will be another week before the territory announces details on how they will be distributed. 

Manitoba health officials announced 133 new cases and five additional deaths on Tuesday, while Saskatchewan reported 208 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths in the province since Sunday.

British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 2,206 cases in the province since Christmas Eve, along with 74 deaths during that period.

Self-assessment and supports:

With winter cold and influenza season upon us, Alberta Health Services will prioritize Albertans for testing who have symptoms, and those groups which are at higher risk of getting or spreading the virus.

General asymptomatic testing is currently unavailable for people with no known exposure to COVID-19.

Those who test positive will be asked to use the online COVID-19 contact tracing tool, so that their close contacts can be notified by text message.

The province says Albertans who have returned to Canada from other countries must self-isolate. Unless your situation is critical and requires a call to 911, Albertans are advised to call Health Link at 811 before visiting a physician, hospital or other health-care facility.

If you have symptoms, even mild, you are to self-isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms, until the symptoms have disappeared. 

You can find Alberta Health Services’ latest coronavirus updates here.

The province also operates a confidential mental health support line at 1-877-303-2642 and addiction help line at 1-866-332-2322, both available 24 hours a day. 

Online resources are available for advice on handling stressful situations and ways to talk with children.

There is a 24-hour family violence information line at 310-1818 to get anonymous help in more than 170 languages, and Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence is available at 1-866-403-8000, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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Military to support vaccination efforts in northern Ontario Indigenous communities –



TORONTO – The Canadian military is set to help with COVID-19 vaccine distribution in northern Ontario, as officials investigate the death of a teenager who had the virus and worked at a long-term care home in the province’s southwest.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair tweeted Sunday that the Canadian Armed Forces will support vaccine efforts in 32 communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. The move came after a request from the province for assistance in getting vaccine to First Nations communities, he wrote.

“ur government will always be there to support the fight against #COVID19,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation, whose territory comprises 49 remote communities in northwestern Ontario, did not immediately comment on the pending deployment.

Meanwhile, officials in Middlesex-London said Sunday that a male teen who worked in a long-term care facility in the region was among the three deaths reported on the area’s COVID-19 case site earlier in the weekend.

Dr. Alexander Summers, associate medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit, said he couldn’t provide the exact age or any other details about the teen.

But he said the person was a staff member of the long-term care home who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and died earlier in the week.

“Through the course of our investigation, the potential exposures could be many, but certainly the long-term care home is a potential exposure for this individual,” Summers said in an interview.

Summers said to his knowledge, the teen was not hospitalized with COVID-19.

He is the youngest person to have died after contracting the virus in the county, Summers said, noting the majority of deaths they’ve seen among COVID-19 patients have been in an older demographic.

“It can have severe impacts on people of all ages and this story and this unfortunate and tragic situation as a reminder of that,” Summers said.

“Certainly, this is a very rare occurrence. It’s a rare event. And the investigation continues as to understanding what exactly might have happened. However, regardless, it’s a sad day.”

The Roberta Place Retirement Lodge long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., north of Toronto, also made headlines over the weekend after health officials said a U.K. variant of COVID-19 was behind a deadly outbreak there.

On Sunday, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said it had learned of an additional individual with the U.K. variant within the region.

The unit said that individual had close contact with a person who is also part of a COVID-19 outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community, a long-term care home in Bradford West Gwillimbury, south of Barrie.

Officials are now investigating whether that outbreak is also due to the U.K. variant.

Ontario reported 2,417 new cases of COVID-19 and 50 more deaths related to the virus on Sunday.

The numbers were slightly up from Saturday’s 2,359 cases, though deaths declined by two from previous figures.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said there were 785 new cases in Toronto, 404 in Peel Region, 215 in York Region and 121 in Niagara.

Over 48,900 tests had been completed in Ontario over the past 24 hours.

The province reported that 4,427 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered since the province’s last report, and 1,436 are hospitalized with the virus.

A total of 280,573 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Ontario so far.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 255,002 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. Of those, 225,046 have recovered and 5,803 people have died.

On Monday, the province plans to issue the results of a weekend-long expansion of its “inspection blitz” of big-box stores to ensure they were following COVID-19 guidelines.

The workplace inspections, which started in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas last weekend, stretched out to Ottawa, Windsor, Niagara and Durham regions.

Preliminary figures from Saturday showed inspectors went into 310 big-box stores and issued 34 tickets and 53 orders, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said Sunday.

Overall, inspectors found the stores were only at “64 per cent compliance, which the minister said wasn’t good enough.

“The three big issues that we’re finding this weekend: masking protocols aren’t being followed, in some cases; the physical distancing is still an issue in some stores; and this weekend we found that some of these big-box stores don’t have a safety plan that’s required of them to prevent COVID-19 from coming into the workplace,” McNaughton said in an interview.

“Every business should know at this point in the pandemic what’s expected of them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said there had been 102 deaths in Ontario over the past 24 hours. There were, in fact, 50 deaths.

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Health unit probes whether COVID-19 variant behind 2nd Ontario long-term care home outbreak –



The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is investigating whether an outbreak at a long-term care home in the town of Bradford West Gwillimbury is due to the variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

At a news conference on Sunday, the health unit said a person linked to the Bradford Valley Care Community has tested positive for the variant. This person has had close contact with another person who is a part of the outbreak at that home, it said.

Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said the Public Health Ontario Laboratory told the health unit about the positive case late Saturday.

“Given this situation, we are working together in partnership with the residence to implement additional measures to contain the spread while pursuing the necessary tests to determine if it is the U.K. variant of COVID-19 that is the cause of this outbreak,” Gardner said in a new release.

The health unit said it is investigating “all other connections” to the person who tested positive. Gardner said the person worked in a retail setting in Simcoe County that offered curbside pickup, and two COVID-19 cases are linked to this setting.

The news comes after the health unit said the variant is behind a deadly outbreak at Roberta Place Long Term Care in Barrie, Ont., on Saturday. Genome sequencing on six COVID-19 samples from the home have been identified as the highly contagious variant.

An outbreak at Roberta Place, first declared on Jan. 8, has resulted in the deaths of 40 residents and one essential caregiver as of Sunday.

There are 127 resident and 86 staff cases of COVID-19 at Roberta Place. Six residents are also in hospital with COVID-19. 

The body of a deceased resident of Roberta Place Long Term Care in Barrie, Ont., is removed on Jan. 18. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The outbreak at Bradford Valley Care Community, meanwhile, was declared on Jan. 14. As of Sunday, six residents out of 230 and three staff out of 260 have tested positive for COVID-19.

The health unit said more testing will be done to determine whether the outbreak is due to the variant. It added that the outbreak is “well under control at this time with a relatively low case count,” but the possibility that it may be due to the variant must be assessed and managed. 

Dr. Andrea Moser, chief medical officer for Sienna Senior Living, which owns and operates the facility, said in a news release on Sunday that staff members at the home are working to contain the outbreak.

“We are being extremely vigilant in our monitoring for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and are taking all of the necessary steps to protect the safety of our residents and team members,” Moser said.

“We are working proactively with public health and community partners, as fighting the virus will require everyone’s expertise and teamwork.”  

Staff at home implementing measures to control outbreak

Moser said case and contact measures are being undertaken, including:

  • Extending the length of isolation for cases and close contacts.
  • More readily identifying close contacts.
  • Quarantining all household contacts of confirmed or probable cases as quickly as possible.

The health unit said its staff vaccinated most of the residents in Bradford Valley Care Community on Jan. 15 as a protective measure against COVID-19. 

As of Jan. 16, all residents of long-term care homes in Simcoe Muskoka have been offered their first dose of immunization against COVID-19, the health unit added.

Moser said about 60 per cent of staff members and 96 per cent of residents at Bradford Valley Care Community have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“We appreciate all the efforts from our partners in the community with the rollout of the vaccine and will continue working closely with them as additional doses are available for deployment,” she said.

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Simcoe-Muskoka top doc on UK COVID variant in area: 'All eyes are watching us right now' –



BARRIE – As more details emerge about the presence of the United Kingdom variant of COVID-19, it could also mean more changes to protective measures in long-term care homes, the local community, and abroad. 

On Saturday, public health officials confirmed the more virulent UK B.1.1.7 variant is present at Roberta Place in south-end Barrie, where the death toll has now reached 40***. 

There are 127 residents which represents all but two residents — who have tested positive for the virus, as well as 86 workers, which represents approximately half of the entire staff. Six residents and one staff member are currently hospitalized at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH).

The outbreak at the 137-bed Roberta Place long-term care home was first declared on Jan. 8.

This week, it was reported that a worker may have brought the virus into the Essa Road facility after being in contact with an international traveller. SimcoeMuskoka medical office of health Dre. Charles Gardner was asked if charges could be laid if someone wasn’t following quarantine rules. 

“When we look at the situation, we actually don’t see violation of any of the recommendations from the province, nor was there a violation of the Quarantine Act with regards to the individual who was travelling,” he said Saturday during a Zoom call with reporters. “So the exposure in question did not take place out in the community.”

The staff member who contracted the virus did not show symptoms at the beginning when they went to work, the doctor noted.

“They were asymptomatic when they were tested routinely,” Gardner said. 

Public health officials have been reluctant to release any information that could identify either the staff member or the traveller, but Gardner did confirm traveller is a resident of SimcoeMuskoka

“There’s no requirement to be in isolation and not go into work solely because one has been in contact with a traveller who’s asymptomatic,” Gardner said.

“We need to keep learning about this virus as we go,” he added. “I have no doubt that, with this variant, we’re going to continue to have to change and tighten up requirements.”

Questions have also been raised about staff at Roberta Place going between rooms of residents who were positive for the virus and others who were not. 

“I would agree that the home never successfully put in place the kind of cohorting… where you maintain the restriction on the movement of staff, or the exposure of staff to cases and non-cases,” Gardner said. “That was something that certainly was not the optimum practice in an outbreak and that wasn’t established, in part because of how quickly this spread and in part because the number of staff that became ill, they had such a difficulty maintaining the adequate staffing in the first place.”

Cohorting is a strategy to reduce risk of transmission by assigning health-care workers to patients or groups of patients based on patient exposure or infection.

Gardner said it can be “challenging” to do that, however, during a fast-moving outbreak.

“This moved very quickly,” he said. “There were 40 cases that emerged over the course of a single weekend at the very beginning. The rapid pace made it difficult to put those measures in place.”

David Jarlette, president of Jarlette Health Services, which operates Roberta Place, said the virus came into the long-term care home so quickly they weren’t able to achieve cohorting “in a quick and timely fashion.”

With so many staff and team members infected at Roberta Place, Gardner said they have had to take a multi-faceted approach to ensure staffing levels are sufficient at the facility. Jarlette Health Services has reallocated staff and also brought in temporary workers from outside organizations, such as the Red Cross.

An occupational health and safety team has been formed involving the health unit and other health-care partners. They also want to make sure all employees are offered the vaccine, Gardner said. 

“From what we have seen, the uptake for this has been very, very strong, but we need to continue that as new people come into the facility,” he added.

There will be ongoing monitoring at Roberta Place through rapid testing by Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH), which has been granted temporary leadership of the long-term care home following an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA). Testing will be done on a twice-weekly basis. Anyone who shows symptoms or who has a positive result will be placed in isolation at home, or hospitalized if needed.

Gardner said they hope to contain the variant to the site and limit spread into the community. This includes “a more strict threshold” for people who are at higher risk and more intensive follow-up. In cases where the person cannot isolate at home, they could be put up in a hotel to reduce the risk of spread to household members, he added. 

“Our goal is to avoid transmission into the community,” the doctor said. 

Gardner conceded community spread involving the UK variant is likely already happening. 

“It’s certainly on the edge,” he said. “It would depend on their contacts beyond their household and whether or not we’re starting to see spread there. We haven’t seen that yet, but we’re on the very edge.”

Gardner said health officials also want to protect long-term care homes and retirement facilities from community spread. 

If outbreaks are seen at other facilities, Gardner said he will have the genome sequencing done to determine whether the variant is showing up in those other facilities.

With the local emergence of the UK variant, BarrieToday asked Gardner if any modifications to protocols or protective measures will be put in place at other long-term care homes in SimcoeMuskoka

In regard to Roberta Place, case and contact management has already changed to identify people who are considered high-risk. 

“If in fact there’s been an exposure that’s just momentary, rather than 15 minutes or more, we’re considering that a high-risk contact and those individuals go into isolation or quarantine,” Gardner said.

As well, people in full protective gear who have been in a confined space for more than 30 minutes with an infected person, they will also be considered a high-risk exposure. The isolation period for such instances is being extended from 10 days to 14. 

“The experience that has been seen with the UK variant in other countries has been of a higher viral load and therefore possibly a longer period of viral shedding,” said Gardner, resulting in a longer period of isolation. “We certainly will have to learn from this with regard to what we do at other sites. The whole province will have to learn as we go.

“All eyes are watching us right now,” the doctor added. 

Gardner said the situation at Roberta Place will have a “profound” effect on other long-term care homes. 

“We all need to be on the alert,” he said. 

The immunization of all residents retirement homes is another immediate change in protocol at long-term care homes, Gardner said. Last weekend, vaccinations were completed for all residents of long-term care homes in SimcoeMuskoka. That focus has now shifted to retirement homes in the region. There are still 16 homes to go, which Gardner expected to be done by Wednesday.

***This information has been updated with the most recent numbers.

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