Two retirement homes in the Greater Toronto Area have banned visitors from Barrie, Ont. where a deadly outbreak of a COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. has spread throughout a long-term care home there.
Barrie is considered to be a “high alert” area because of the variant, according to Gillian Costello, spokesperson for Shannex Inc., which operates Parkland on the Glen in Mississauga and Parkland on Eglinton West in Toronto.
Barrie is only “high alert” area identified by Shannex so far.
Costello said anyone who has been to a high alert community or has come into contact with someone from a high alert community is restricted from visiting the homes.
“In this particular case, our concern is the rising number of the new variant in the Barrie area. Because of this, we have taken proactive steps to keep our communities safe,” said Gillian Costello in an email to CBC Toronto on Sunday..
In keeping with provincial restrictions, visitors to Parkland on the Glen in Mississauga and Parkland on Eglinton West in Toronto must be essential. Staff at the home must undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
“These decisions are not made easily as we understand the hardship they can create for our residents and their loved ones, but our priority must be the health and safety of those who live and work in our communities,” Costello said.
She said these new measures are extra precautions that they are taking to keep COVID-19 out of their facilities, particularly as the province continues to see more cases of the new variant.
Home operator may add to list of high alert areas
Shannex may add to its lists of high alert area, Costello said. At Roberta Place, there have been at least 46 deaths of people with COVID-19.
“At this time, our restriction is to the Barrie area only, however, if other high alert areas are identified we may chose to update these restrictions,” Costello said in a statement.
All but two of 129 residents at Roberta Place have been infected with the virus since Thursday.
As of Saturday, there are 10 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the Simcoe Muskoka region.
Earlier this week, Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), told reporters that 99 more people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the region probably have a variant of the virus, according to a positive first screening.
Ninety-seven of the 99 cases are associated with outbreaks at the Roberta Place and Bradford Valley Care Community in the region.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Long-Term Care said essential caregivers can visit homes at any time, including during an outbreak, but this is subject to direction from the local public health unit.
“These units may provide further direction on the types and numbers of visitors to the homes to ensure the health and safety of all residents, staff and visitors,” the ministry said in a statement to CBC Toronto.
They also said they have enhanced testing requirements for essential caregivers and support workers. These visitors must show that they have received a negative COVID-19 test result in the past week, as well as verbally attest to not having the virus or show a negative test result on the day of the visit.
In an email statement to CBC Toronto, the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility noted that each home, in consultation with its local public health unit, will make decisions based on its own circumstances and experience.
“Throughout this pandemic, the advice of the chief medical officer of health has guided our retirement home visitor policy and we will continue to let science guide our decisions on any future changes,” the statement reads.
Currently, both Parkland on the Glen and Parkland on Eglinton West are experiencing an outbreak. Parkland on the Glen currently has four active employee cases, while Parkland on Eglinton West has three active employee cases.
At this time, there are no resident cases at either location.
B117 variant could be dominant strain come March: data
When it comes to restricting travel between regions, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said earlier this week that it is “worth considering” but will depend on what’s discovered in ongoing studies.
In an interview Sunday on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live, Dr. Peter Jüni, the scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said that the new federal restrictions on international travel could help “a little bit,” in stopping the spread of the B117 variant.
“We need to be aware of all the other variants … the more cases we have in the community, the higher the risk that there is another variant out there who is behaving similarly to the one in the U.K.”
According to modelling data by the province’s COVID-19 advisory table earlier this week, the B117 variant could be the dominant strain in the province by March.
Jüni said when it comes to the prevalence of the variant currently in the province, Ontario is “probably at around five per cent.”
“From the moment you reach five per cent until the variant has taken over, meaning 50 per cent, it takes roughly a month,” he said.
“If we don’t follow the guidelines — all of us — then we might be in relatively big trouble in March.”