The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) says another COVID-19 variant of concern has been found in the region for the first time.
Two cases of the variant first reported in South Africa have been discovered in the region, the health unit announced Tuesday.
Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health, said that while it's not known whether the strain leads to more severe disease like the one first reported in the U.K., it does spread more easily than the original virus.
And while the research is still evolving, there's evidence that vaccines might not work as well on that strain.
"The key impact for this particular variant of concern is that all the available vaccines may not be as effective," he said at the health unit's daily briefing on Tuesday.
The number of variants of concern in Windsor-Essex has expanded significantly in recent weeks.
In total, there are 550 confirmed or preliminary variant of concern (VOC) cases. The vast majority, 477, are the strain first reported in the U.K.
Out of the 461 active COVID-19 cases in Windsor-Essex, 133 — or 28.9 per cent — were caused by variants of concern.
Ahmed said he understands that people are tired of following public health guidelines, but said with the introduction of VOCs, we aren't just fighting one pandemic.
"We could soon end up having two pandemics, one with the original SARS-CoV-2, and the other one with the variants of concern," he said.
2 more deaths due to COVID-19
The health unit also reported 49 additional cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
WECHU CEO Theresa Marentette said two more residents have lost their lives to COVID-19, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 70s.
It's the second time in a week that the heath unit announced that COVID-19 has killed a person in their 40s. Ahmed declined to say whether the man had underlying health conditions, explaining that the health unit will no longer be providing clinical details due to privacy.
He added that people with health conditions, as well as those without any pre-existing issues, can become seriously ill or die from COVID-19.
"At this time, I don't want to undermine the impact, whether someone has a pre-existing medical condition or not. It is a serious virus and it is killing people at different ages," he said, adding that it's older adults who are more likely to develop severe consequences.
So far, 136,289 vaccine doses have been administered locally, and 123,069 people have received at least one dose.
Marentette said the health unit is wrapping up vaccinations for special education workers and would be contacting school boards to vaccinate a "limited group" of people — junior and senior kindergarten teachers and staff — in COVID-19 hotspot regions.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 14,893 COVID-19 cases recorded in Windsor-Essex and 411 deaths.
Of the new cases announced Tuesday, 18 are close contacts of previously confirmed cases, eight were community acquired, one is related to travel outside North America and 22 are under investigation.
There is one outbreak at a school, St. John Vianney Catholic School in Windsor.
There are also five outbreaks at workplaces:
One in Leamington's agriculture sector.
Three in Windsor's health care & social assistance sector.
One in Windsor's manufacturing sector.
COVID-19 in Chatham-Kent, Sarnia-Lambton
Lambton Public Health reported five new COVID-19 cases and one additional death on Tuesday. Overall, there are 84 active cases and two outbreaks.
In Chatham-Kent, the COVID-19 case count grew by one. There are 38 active cases overall, and four outbreaks.