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Region sees first case of UK variant of COVID-19

COVID-19 Coronavirus
COVID-19 Coronavirus

Update: Region of Waterloo Public Health’s further investigation of the first detected case of the UK variant in Waterloo Region has identified that the individual had close contact with an individual who travelled internationally. A complete genomic sequencing test of the individual was requested to Public Health Ontario. The individual’s case is also connected with an outbreak at Columbia Forest Long Term Care Home in Waterloo in late December. The individual was identified as a positive case through routine surveillance testing in early January.

Public Health has not identified any increased risk to the community or long-term care facility in connections with this individual.

Waterloo Region has seen its first case of the more contagious UK variant of COVID-19. Local officials were notified Thursday night by Public Health Ontario that a woman in her 30s had been diagnosed with the mutant strain.

The resident had previously tested positive for COVID-19, with the variant testing carried out by the province. She has since recovered.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region’s medical officer of health, said the woman had not been aware she was carrying the new strain.

“We got this information last night, and we wanted to let you [the public] know. But we also have to be able to follow up with the actual person in their contacts, so that they know and to review also their case and your work history, the contact history, and so we’ll be able to share more information. Once we’re able to, to inform the person as well as their contacts as well as confirm some of the information provided you have a supplemental,” said Wang during Friday’s weekly coronavirus briefing, adding  more information will be available once contact tracing has progressed.

The arrival of a the UK variant in the region provides an even greater reason for residents to follow public health measures, she said, calling for social distancing, frequent hand washing, wearing a facial covering and leaving the house for essential trips only.

Wang said the arrival of new variants of the virus wasn’t a surprise, with more cases anticipated.

“This is not unexpected, there have been over 50 cases detected in Ontario, multiple other health unit areas. I expect more cases will be detected in Waterloo Region as more testing for the variant by the provincial lab system is done in the days ahead.”

The new strain lessened the impact of some good news in the form of lower numbers of active cases.

On Friday, there were 601 active cases, down significantly from 866 a week earlier. The incident rate of 89 per 100,000 population feel from 127 at this point last week.

“We continue to see new cases slow and move in the right direction, but numbers are still comparatively high to what we have previously seen in the spring and early fall,” said Wang.

Active outbreaks remain high with 34 ongoing, with long-term care/retirement homes making up 16 of the outbreak locations and workplace settings, counting for eight locations. Congregate settings, hospitals, the child care industry and the school also having ongoing outbreaks.

Deaths, ICU admissions, and hospitalizations remain high since lagging indicators appear in the weeks following high case counts. Currently, there are 42 individuals hospitalized, with nine in intensive care. There have been 198 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began.

With the UK variant expected to be the dominant strain by March due to its increased transmission rate, Wang offered suggestions to help residents cope with ongoing public health measures.

“It is important to maintain social connections while we are apart. Connecting with others and developing positive relationships has a significant influence on our mental health and wellbeing. I appreciate that feeling connected is challenged by public health measures, but while we stay apart, we do not have to be alone: try new ways to stay connected with friends and family,” she said. “For example, schedule time to connect virtually, plan regular check-ins each week. Have dinner with friends over a video call stream, an online group fitness class, attend a virtual book club, have an online movie night.

“It is important to stay connected and talk to the people you trust about what is going on in your life and how you are feeling. If you are struggling, local health is available at here24/7.”

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