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Simcoe Muskoka Immunization Team acts quickly to contain COVID variant

Jan 22, 2021
SIMCOE MUSKOKA – In the fight against any further spread of COVID-19 that has swept through Roberta Place long-term care home, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) has accelerated its immunization program.

SIMCOE MUSKOKA – In the fight against any further spread of COVID-19 that has swept through Roberta Place long-term care home, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) has accelerated its immunization program.

Today, all eligible residents and staff at Roberta Place Retirement Lodge retirement home are being vaccinated against COVID-19, in an effort to protect them against what is highly likely a variant of the virus that has devastated the adjacent Roberta Place long-term care home. Immunization by the health unit’s mobile team will be complete by the end of today, as will the vaccination of any remaining residents and staff at Roberta Place long-term care home.

Beginning this weekend, the health unit, in collaboration with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, (RVH) will also begin immunizing residents at retirement homes throughout Simcoe Muskoka.

“Barrie has become ground zero for what is likely a COVID-19 variant of concern, which has spread rapidly throughout Roberta Place and we are concerned that it will spread into our community and into other long-term and retirement homes,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU’s medical officer of health. “This is a race against time and we need to use the COVID-19 vaccine as our most effective means to protect these residents. We have to do what we can to prevent other outbreaks.”

An outbreak was declared at Roberta Place on January 8, and spread rapidly, infecting almost 100 per cent of the residents, 81 staff and resulting in 27 deaths to date. On Wednesday SMDHU confirmed that preliminary laboratory testing has identified from six of the cases a high likelihood that there is a COVID-19 variant of concern (the UK, South Africa or Brazil variants) in the home. The variant testing is a two-part test. The first test looks for a particular mutation, which if positive, indicates a very high probability that they are of a variant of concern. The second part of the test is a whole genome sequencing test to determine the exact COVID-19 variant. These variants of concern are more easily transmitted, resulting in much larger numbers of cases. The result of the second part of the test is expected in the days to come.

Given the delivery delay of shipments of the Pfizer vaccine to Canada, supply of the vaccine is extremely low and uncertain. The health unit and RVH continue to work with the provincial government to secure additional supply of the vaccine as they act quickly to contain the spread of this variant and protect the most vulnerable residents in the region.

“Our absolute first priority must be to protect our most vulnerable residents, and in turn, our region. This variant spreads quickly. Getting the vaccine to those who need it most as quickly as possible will save lives. We must act fast,” said Janice Skot, CEO RVH. “However, we have very little vaccine supply at this time. Immunizing all retirement home residents is the right thing to do, however it has significant implication on those waiting for their second dose of the vaccine. We need provincial help.”

To-date, all eligible long-term care resident in Simcoe Muskoka have received the first dose by the health unit’s mobile teams. Almost 10,000 healthcare workers and essential caregivers have been immunized at the COVID-19 Immunization Clinic in Barrie, a partnership between SMDHU, RVH and the City of Barrie, which opened December 22, 2020. Since then, between the Barrie clinic and the mobile clinics, more than 14,000 (as of Jan. 20) doses of the vaccine have been administered to long-term care and retirement home residents, employees and essential caregivers and prioritized hospital workers throughout Simcoe Muskoka

The public is reminded that during the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine it’s important that everyone continue to strictly follow public health measures to reduce and prevent transmission of the virus: wear a mask, physically distance from those outside your household, wash your hands frequently, leave your home only for essential reasons (in keeping with the provincial Stay at Home Order), and if you are sick self-isolate at home and get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms.

For more information, visit the health unit’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Immunization web page or call Health Connection to speak with a public health professional weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 705-721-7520 (1-877-721-7520). More information about the vaccine and immunization can also be found at


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