Health unit declares workplace outbreak in northern Ontario community, confirms presence of COVID variants

A nurse holds a vial containing a patients test swab during a demonstrates of the drive-thru Covid-19 testing centre at the National Arts Centre Wednesday November 18, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The Porcupine Health Unit reported seven new COVID-19 cases among residents in the health unit area on Thursday.

As a result of two of these new cases, the PHU is also declaring a workplace outbreak of COVID-19 at the Municipal Office of the Township of Black River-Matheson.

"Public health will notify all close contacts directly," the health unit said in a news release. "If you are not contacted by public health, you are not considered a close contact."

The health unit is also advising that six confirmed cases previously reported in Timmins and two in the area of Cochrane, Matheson, Iroquois Falls and Smooth Rock Falls, have screened positive for a variant of concern.

"The individuals are currently in self-isolation and following the public health recommendations," the release said. "It is expected that the variant is the predominant strain in Ontario, which is the B.1.1.7 first detected in the United Kingdom. No further testing will be done as per ministry guidance."

Also concerning is that some non-residents in the area who are currently self-isolating have confirmed the type of variant as E484K, which is associated with variants previously detected in South Africa and Brazil.

That COVID strain is of particular concern because it has been shown to resist current vaccines, cause more severe symptoms, and people have been re-infected after already having the disease.