Guelph Had a Case of the U.K. COVID Variant. A Month Ago.

In mid-January, there was a super-spreader event on the University of Guelph campus where over 50 people had gotten together in the townhouse of East Residence for a Frost Week party. A couple of days before that though, there was another serious public health matter related to the pandemic, a case of one of the COVID-19 variants had infected a Guelph resident, and the public never knew it… Until now.

In a media release from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health on Thursday, it was announced that there was a case of the B.1.1.7 strain of COVID-19, which is more colloquially known as the U.K. variant, in Guelph on January 13.

“We were fortunate in this instance,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer in a statement. “Public Health acts quickly to contact all positive cases of COVID-19 in the region and ensure they self-isolate. Because this individual followed public health guidance, the risk to the community was limited.”

According to Public Health, this person with the U.K. variant had traveled outside of Canada and had come into contact with people from the United Kingdom. This prompted additional screenings to be done, and the case of was flagged for genetic sequencing through the provincial health authority. In the meantime, our own public health unit treated the cases as if it were any case of COVID. The person with the variant completed their quarantine and the case was considered resolved on January 21.

“It’s important that the public understands the risk and follows public health guidance to ensure these strains of the virus don’t spread through our region, put all of us at risk and put further pressure on our healthcare system,” explained Mercer. “Because they are so much more transmissible than the original strain of COVID, they can spread more easily which makes it even more important to not gather together with anyone outside of your own household.”

Getting exact numbers about COVID-19 variants in Ontario is tricky. Thursday’s data from Public Health Ontario showed 236 cases of the U.K. variant and three instances of the South African variant. This may not be a real reflection of the penetration of the three main COVID variants in the province.

Last weekend, Toronto Public Health announced that had discovered a case of the South African variant in their jurisdiction as well as Canada’s first case of the Brazilian variant, but those numbers are not reflected in the PHO data. It’s worth noting that there is a disclaimer about reading too much into that data owing to the screening and confirmation process, which includes, “delays between specimen collection and whole genome sequencing.”

In this week’s episode of the Guelph Politicast, Dr. Mercer explained that it can take up to 10 days to complete gene sequencing, but there was a plan to step up testing and verification of samples to see if they are more cases of one of the three main COVID variants going around Ontario.

“For the next two weeks, Ontario labs are going to be looking at all positive samples and they’re going to try and do genetic sequencing to look and see if they’re positive,” Mercer said. “So for two weeks, they test all samples, and that’s a huge job to do, and then after that, I think they’re going to be looking at 10 per cent of all of the samples to see what we can find for variants.

“We are going to find a lot more information, and I think you’ll hear a lot more about variants over the next couple of weeks,” Mercer added.

The latest numbers from Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health peg the number of active cases at 167 with just 23 new cases announced on Thursday. There has been a total of 4,422 cases of COVID-19 in our region, 4,165 resolved cases and 90 fatalities. The 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases is a little bit north of the red line of 40 per 100,000 at 40.5, but the 7-day moving average for test positivity is still orange at 1.8 per cent.

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