Toronto

Ontario reports cumulative total of 401 cases of variants of concern

Ontario has recorded a total of 401 confirmed cases of variants of concern, the provincial health ministry reported on the weekend.

Nearly 80% of cases involving variants of concern are due to close contact, over 12% have no known link

Nurses administer rapid COVID-19 tests at a construction site in Toronto on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Ontario has recorded a total of 401 confirmed cases of variants of concern, the provincial health ministry reported on the weekend.

The province reported its first two cases of a variant of concern on Dec. 27, 2020.

Of the total, 391 cases have been of the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the variant first detected in the United Kingdom, the ministry said in its "Daily Epidemiologic Summary: COVID-19 in Ontario: January 15, 2020 to February 20, 2021."

Nine cases have been of the B.1.351 variant, also known as the variant first discovered in South Africa. One case has been of the P.1 variant, also known as the variant first detected in Brazil.

All of the variants of concern are considered to be highly transmissible, while the mutations of the B.1.351 and P.1 variants are believed to reduce the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

A total of 223 cases of variants of concern in Ontario have been among women, while a total of 177 cases have been among men, the ministry reported. A total of 142 cases have been among people aged 20 to 39.

As for how people acquired the variants of concern, the ministry said 79.6 per cent were due to close contact or associated with an outbreak, 12.7 per cent were unknown or have "no known epidemiological link."

The province said 168 cases of B.1.1.7 variant have been confirmed in the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit, while 68 cases have been confirmed in Toronto Public Health and 53 cases have been confirmed in both Peel Public Health and York Region Public Health. 

Nineteen cases of this variant have been confirmed in Durham Region Health Department, east of Toronto, where the strain first appeared in Ontario.

Seven cases of the B.1.351 variant have been confirmed in Peel Public Health. The one case of the P.1 variant has been confirmed in Toronto Public Health.

A COVID-19 outbreak in which the B.1.1.7 variant was present devastated a Barrie, Ont. long-term care home earlier this year.

All 129 residents of Roberta Place Long Term Care Home, 106 staff members, five external partners and four essential caregivers tested positive for COVID-19 in the outbreak that was declared on Jan. 8 and that ended on Feb. 18.  A total of 71 residents died with COVID-19.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a series of tweets on Sunday that the province is maintaining its stay-at-home order and shutdown in Toronto, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound until at least March 8 in part because of variants of concern.

Variant count 'tip of iceberg,' medical officer says

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, has said the rising number of cases of variants of concern are worrying.

"The variants of concern mean we face a deceptively dangerous situation," De Villa said in remarks at a city hall news briefing last Wednesday.

"Right now, the case count numbers don't look so bad — don't sound bad — but today's variant count is the tip of an iceberg," she continued.

"By the time the confirmed case counts are big enough to shock us, it will be too late to do anything. We will be in a third wave as bad as anything we've been through thus far."

Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health, says: 'The variants of concern mean we face a deceptively dangerous situation. Right now, the case count numbers don't look so bad — don't sound bad — but today's variant count is the tip of an iceberg.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The B.1.1.7 variant first began to spread in England in September 2020, noted de Villa. In mid-November, daily cases of the variant were about 15,000 a day, but by mid-December, the count jumped to more than 50,000 a day.

"That is what happens with exponential growth, and exponential growth is what Toronto faces. Suddenly case counts leap and the opportunity to prevent it is gone," she said.

B.1.1.7 variant likely to become dominant strain in Ontario

She said, according to the Ontario's advisory and modelling tables, the B.1.1.7 variant is spreading and cases are expected to grow in late February. Experts have said the B.1.1.7 variant will soon be the dominant strain in Ontario, de Villa added.

"Variants of concern are now present in most congregate settings in Toronto," de Villa said.

A confirmed variant of concern is defined as a COVID-19 case in which a designated variant of concern was detected by whole genome sequencing of a SARS-CoV-2 positive specimen.

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Mount Brydges, Ont., a small community outside of London, All of the variants of concern are considered to be highly transmissible, while the mutations of the B.1.351 and P.1 variants are believed to reduce the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

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