Highly contagious 'Delta' variant of COVID-19 confirmed in Timmins area, health unit says

Lianne Catton on the latest in the investigation into the Porcupine region's fourth death due to COVID-19 (CTV Northern Ontario)

The Porcupine Health Unit announced Friday afternoon that the 'Delta' variant -- a much more transmissible form of the COVID-19 virus-and first reported in India -- is now confirmed in the region.

The area has been hard hit in the last month by the pandemic, and despite efforts to get residents vaccinated, daily case numbers are alarming. Another 57 cases were reported on Friday alone, one of the highest numbers in Ontario.

“So this is a very unfortunate turn of events," said Dr. Lianne Catton, medical officer of health for the Porcupine Health Unit.

"Although we’ve seen this variant increasing across the province and more predominantly in southern Ontario, this is the first signal of seeing this highly contagious variant here and it’s very concerning."

Kate Fyfe, Timmins and District Hospital's chief executive officer, said the first patient with the new variant has been admitted to the hospital.

"However, it is not surprising," Fyfe said, adding that "the situation in our district is not the fault of one person or group of people."

She and others ask people to be mindful of their actions, now "more than ever."

Catton said while the province is slowly reopening, as far as Timmins goes, "It would be better if we didn’t.”

“It’s a simple message," said Timmins Mayor George Pirie. "We know the situation is serious and again, my condolences to the family and their loved ones for the individual who suffered a fatality associated with COVID-19 in this last week."

As of Friday morning, the hospital had 11 patients with COVID-19, including two in the ICU. Plus more than 40 people have been admitted and are awaiting COVID test results.

The health unit said the vaccination rate for its area is at 68 per cent, but it needs to go higher and second doses will be offered to those aged 70 and older.

Pirie will hold a media call on Monday to provide an update to the community.