NWHU reports its first case of the COVID-19 variant

By Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) has received its first reported COVID-19 variant of concern lab result on Friday.

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the NWHU, said the U.K. variant was found in a previously reported case in the Dryden area and is not known to be linked to the recent increase of cases in the Kenora area. The case is currently resolved.

Young Hoon said there is some indication that it is related to travel from outside of the region, adding that variants of concern spread much faster than the non-variant COVID-19 virus.

“Since the virus spreads quickly, within a day or two, many people can be infected which just means more people are likely to be ill and more people are likely to be hospitalized,” Young Hoon said.

The presence of a variant of concern in northwestern Ontario is cause to reinforce physical distancing, mask use, hand hygiene and limiting the number of people you socialize with, Young Hoon said, adding that this should not be a cause of panic but it is a wake-up call to all residents that even within northwestern Ontario, infectious diseases can spread.

Young Hoon said that at this point the NWHU is fairly certain that there has not been spread from the case. However, they are still investigating.

“I think in general people need to be more aware,” Young Hoon said. “This is a situation that we don’t want spread within our catchment area, we want to be on top of it early and make sure it does not spread.”

Young Hoon said the NWHU only received the lab results on Thursday and are reviewing the case investigation and details to determine if further action needs to be taken.

“At this point, we have seen case numbers increase in the Dryden area so I’m hopeful that it has not spread and that based on the actions of the individual, it has not spread to the broader community,” Young Hoon said.

As per the province’s policy, all positive COVID-19 results are sent to a public health lab to be examined for variants, Young Hoon said. This causes a delay which explains the school screening tool policy about household members having to stay home while symptomatic individuals are waiting test results, Young Hoon adds.

Young Hoon notes that at this time, the vaccine is thought to be effective against variants of concern, particularly the U.K. variant.

Until all residents in the NWHU catchment area can be vaccinated, Young Hoon urges the public to stay at least two metres away from anyone you do not live with, including relatives and if anyone has any virus symptoms, including flu or cold-like symptoms, to immediately self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19.