Public Health Sudbury & Districts reported two new cases of COVID-19 in Greater Sudbury on Friday.
An additional eight cases have been resolved, bringing the total number of active cases in the health unit’s service area to 50.
The health unit confirmed the presence of the COVID-19 UK variant called B117 in a resident of its service area in a press release Friday. The individual was initially tested for the virus at the end of January and is currently self-isolating.
Public Health Ontario also notified the health unit of three other possible cases of the UK variant locally.
Two of the possible cases are in individuals who recently travelled internationally, and the other is in an individual who was self-isolating as a contact of a known case of a COVID-19 variant of concern.
A public health nurse at Public Health said that despite the presence of a variant in the region, the public should continue to follow all public health measures currently established to limit the spread of the virus.
“We know that we have a variant in the community, so it’s important that we continue with our ongoing public health measures and just be hyper-vigilant with them going forward,” said Justeen Mansourian, who works in the controls and infectious diseases division at the health unit.
“We know that the variants are at least 50 per cent more transmissible. Every health unit across Ontario is introducing intensified case and contact measures to try and contain the variants as much as possible.”
Mansourian said that health officials have reduced the threshold for how they classify COVID-19 exposures to be extra cautious.
“If someone screens positive for a variant, their isolation dates will be extended. If you are a high-risk close contact of a potential variant, you will still isolate for the 14 days, but you need to get tested at the beginning of the isolation period and then again after 12 days,” she said.
“If you don’t get testing on day 12 or later, we are going to extend the self-isolation period for another seven days. So, essentially, you’re isolating for 21 days.”
The threshold will also become lower for potential exposures or close contacts.
“If I was that variant case, and you had exposure to me, and we were both masked and both distanced, because it’s so highly transmissible, we are not taking the PPE into account. We are still identifying you as a high-risk contact, whereas if the variant wasn’t in the picture, you would have been a low risk,” she said.
Mansourian warned, however, that this is not because PPE does not work – it’s because of what she called potential “breaches in infection control” or, in other words, human fallibility.
“Masks are effective to protect against COVID-19 variants of concern. The variant can’t come through a mask. Distancing is also effective,” she said.
“Oftentimes, when we do contact tracing, it’s so subjective. People tell us that they were masked and distanced, but because the new variant is so transmissible, we need to take transparency and the potential for breaches into account.”
It’s difficult for public health to identify all breaches of infection control during contact tracing and so health units across the province are choosing to take a more conservative approach when it comes to variants of concern.
All positive cases of COVID-19 in Ontario are being screened for known variants of the virus as of Feb. 3. International travelers are subject to the Quarantine Act, and must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to Canada.
Public Health is continuing to monitor the situation and is encouraging the public to stay at home and avoid all non-essential travel.
The COVID-19 outbreak that was declared at Pius XII in Sudbury on Jan. 24 was officially resolved as of Thursday.
There are currently six active COVID-19 outbreaks in institutional settings in the health unit’s service area.
There have been 527 cases reported since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 485 in Greater Sudbury, 18 in the Sudbury district, and 24 in the Manitoulin district.
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Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star