Dozens of cases of more contagious variants of COVID-19 have been found in Haldimand-Norfolk.
Health unit spokesperson Kyra Hayes said according to laboratory analysis, 27 residents were infected by variants “over the past few weeks.”
Hayes said the B.1.351 variant, first discovered in South Africa, and the B.1.1.7 variant, found in the United Kingdom, have infected COVID-19 patients in Haldimand-Norfolk, but the health unit did not provide a further breakdown of the cases.
Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Haldimand-Norfolk’s medical officer of health, said the variants could be behind the recent proliferation of the virus in local schools, such as a cluster of cases that prompted the closure of St. Michael Catholic Elementary in Dunnville on March 8.
“I expect (variants of concern) will ultimately become the dominant strains,” Nesathurai said during a news conference on Monday.
“Viruses do mutate. We expect mutations. The core message is VOCs are more infectious, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing more clusters (and) more of an effect on schools this year than last year.”
There had been little talk of COVID-19 variants in Haldimand-Norfolk since a single case of the U.K. variant was confirmed in late January.
The health unit did not identify any additional cases linked to that patient, but at the time Nesathurai said he suspected more cases were out there based on the presence of variants in surrounding communities such as Hamilton.
Monday’s news of a spike in variants coincides with a recent uptick in active COVID-19 cases. There were 49 active cases as of Monday, and the health unit reported 61 new cases over the past seven days.
Haldimand-Norfolk, which remains in the orange zone of the provincial COVID-19 response framework, had as few as 13 active cases on Feb. 19.
“VOCs are one of many contributing factors associated with the recent rise in case numbers,” Hayes said.
Norfolk EMS chief Sarah Page, who is leading the local vaccine rollout, said her team expected to reach 16,000 total doses administered on Monday.
Some 12 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, Page said.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator