Winnipeg care home resident screened for U.K. variant after staffer tests positive
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/03/2021 (562 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Winnipeg personal care home has learned a staff member contracted the highly contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19, just as the province reported a spike in the number of variant cases Tuesday.
The province announced so-called variants of concern, which are more transmissible, had been confirmed in 55 cases — a significant jump from the 22 variant cases reported Friday.
The rise in such cases was on the mind of Premier Brian Pallister, who held a news conference to announce financial support for the tourism industry.
“The cavalry’s not here yet, but the variants are,” Pallister said.
One of the cases involves an employee at the Heritage Lodge long-term care home, who tested positive before an outbreak was declared at the home on March 10. Three days later, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority notified the care home that the case was confirmed as the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant of the virus.
The employee is off work, isolating at home, said a statement from Revera Inc., the company that manages the facility.
One Heritage Lodge resident has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation, but Revera spokesman Larry Roberts said Tuesday the company is awaiting screening results to find out whether the resident contracted the U.K. strain of the virus. General visits to the home have been cancelled, although most residents have already been vaccinated. Staff vaccinations are ongoing, Revera stated.
Fourteen new cases involving variants of concern — 13 of the U.K. variant and one of the South Africa variant (B.1.351) — have been detected in Manitoba, all of them in the Winnipeg health region, provincial health officials announced Tuesday. Those cases had been previously announced in daily provincial case counts, but the process through which positive COVID-19 results are screened to check for variants takes roughly a week to 10 days.
Most of those 14 cases spread via close contacts, while one is travel-related and one is undergoing further investigation. Three of the cases haven’t been linked to any other case, a provincial spokesperson said. Most of the positive results were detected within the past week, but two of the newly announced variant cases date back to early February. Of the 55 total highly contagious variant cases in the province, 24 are still active and 12 have no known link, which could indicate community transmission.
In Ontario, health officials have warned about an approaching “third wave” of the pandemic because of the rapid spread of highly contagious variants.
Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a Winnipeg medical microbiologist, said 14 new cases involving variants of concern in Manitoba may sound scary, but he noted they didn’t occur all at once. (The province hasn’t yet released data about clusters of highly contagious variant cases). He said increasing community transmission of the variants of concern is a “red flag to slow down reopening.”
“One really important thing that we can (do) to help reduce the transmission of these variants of concern, and to mitigate a third wave, is really get out there and get immunized as soon as you possibly can,” along with maintaining proper hand-washing and physical distancing, Lagacé-Wiens said.
“The take-home message about variants is we have to be vigilant. It’s a wake-up call. This could get out of hand, but it’s in our hands to prevent that from happening by continuing all those fundamentals that we keep hearing about and getting immunized as soon as we can.” – Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens
Even though there are slight differences between vaccines and their effectiveness responding to variants of concern, the vaccines are still effective in reducing the likelihood of serious complications of the virus, Lagacé-Wiens said.
“The take-home message about variants is we have to be vigilant. It’s a wake-up call. This could get out of hand, but it’s in our hands to prevent that from happening by continuing all those fundamentals that we keep hearing about and getting immunized as soon as we can.”
He said he would like to see the province implement two to four weeks of buffer time between lifting public health restrictions to fully understand how the loosened rules affect virus transmission.
While Pallister said he doesn’t want to see Manitoba “yo-yo” in and out of pandemic response restrictions and lockdowns, he defended loosening physical distancing rules at the same time variants of concern have been spreading in the community.
“We take the advice of our public health experts on this issue,” Pallister said.
“I think we’ve moved very cautiously compared to most other jurisdictions.” – Premier Brian Pallister
“I think we’ve moved very cautiously compared to most other jurisdictions,” he said, noting that Saskatchewan allows people from five households to get together without wearing masks. Manitoba allows churchgoers to take their masks off when they’re seated with their own household members and not singing. “If they get up to sing, the potential risk is real,” the premier said. “Mask wearing is very critical and the church leaders we’ve spoken with know that.”
With the March break less than two weeks away, Pallister warned Manitobans not to let their guard down as was the case during the Thanksgiving holiday. That resulted in a surge in COVID-19 cases, which overwhelmed hospitals and intensive care units, and prompted a lockdown that the province is only emerging from now.
“We caused it,” Pallister said. Manitobans didn’t follow social distancing rules, paid the price and should have learned from the experience, the premier said. Although more COVID-19 vaccines are arriving, fast-spreading variants of concerns have taken hold here.
Also Tuesday, the province announced 111 new COVID-19 infections and expanded vaccine eligibility to those 75 or older, and First Nations residents 55 or older.
— with files from Carol Sanders and Danielle Da Silva
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 3:32 PM CDT: Updates lede
Updated on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 4:58 PM CDT: Adds variant outbreak; new headline
Updated on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 8:00 PM CDT: Adds byline
Updated on Wednesday, March 17, 2021 8:17 AM CDT: Minor copy editing changes