73 suspected COVID-19 cases involving variants in Ottawa: Etches

Ottawa's medical officer of health says there's been a rise in the number of people in the city believed to have one of the COVID-19 variants of concern.

10 confirmed and 73 'likely' to be variants of concern after further testing

A laboratory technician wearing protective equipment works on the genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, and its variants. The number of suspected cases in Ottawa that were caused by a variant is believed to be as high as 83. (Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images)

There's been a rise in the number of people believed to have one of the COVID-19 variants of concern, according to Ottawa's medical officer of health.

Variants of concern are ones that can spread more easily or cause more severe infections.

So far, 10 people have tested positive for one of the variants — eight with the one first identified in the U.K. and two first identified in South Africa.

On Wednesday, Dr. Vera Etches said another 73 people have been identified as having a genetic indicator after initial screening — meaning they may be infected by a COVID-19 variant of concern. 

"These screened positives are likely to be confirmed as a variant of concern," said Etches during a virtual OPH news conference.

'We're actually treating everything as if it could be a variant of concern,' said Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches. (CBC)

The city's key indicators have also been on the rise — something Etches said is concerning. Latest wastewater data shows a significant jump at the end of February. The number of people hospitalized have gone up, as have the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive.

"That is the experience in other jurisdictions, that the variant does spread more quickly," she said. "It does have that potential to grow. I'm concerned."

Most variants related to travel

About 70 per cent of the variants of concern identified in Ottawa so far are related to either travel, someone coming into close contact with someone who travelled, or by living in the same household with someone who has the variant.

Etches said the source is unknown for 30 per cent of cases, which indicates it was likely caused by community spread.

It can also take weeks to determine if someone has a variant of concern because all positive samples are sent to a Public Health Ontario lab for genetic sequencing, used to determine if a sample has the variant.

"We're actually treating everything as if it could be a variant of concern," said Etches.

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