The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is officially in the GTA with cases confirmed Thursday in Halton and Durham regions and others under investigation.
A staff member at the East Toronto Detention Center who lives in Durham has been confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant. In addition, four inmates at Scarborough Prison have tested positive for COVID-19 but it was not yet known, Toronto Public Health said, whether they are also infected with the variant causing global health concerns.
This raises the specter of a large-scale epidemic in addition to the smaller travel-related ones now appearing in the Toronto area.
Few details have been provided on the Durham resident except that they are “linked” to the detention center, which has seen large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks in the past. The Star, however, has confirmed that the infected person is working there.
The Durham Health Service said “the case is close contact of a returning traveler from one of the identified countries in southern Africa.
“The Department of Health is also monitoring other investigated COVID-19 cases for the Omicron variant based on travel history and is working with the province to monitor COVID-19 variants of concern,” including Delta and Omicron. “
Dr Robert Kyle, Chief Public Health Officer for Durham, said: ‘While this new variant is no cause for alarm, it is important to remain vigilant and continue to monitor emerging public health measures. have been shown to be effective throughout the pandemic. “
Hours later, Halton Region confirmed its first Omicron case and two probable infections involving the variant.
“All three cases are linked to one of the probable cases which recently traveled to Nigeria,” the region said in a press release.
“The cases are currently in home isolation. Halton Region Public Health has identified all close contacts and advised them of the need to self-isolate and get tested, despite vaccination status, as a precaution at this time. “
Dr Hamidah Meghani, Halton’s medical officer of health, urged “all residents to be vigilant given the entry of the Omicron variant into our community”, ensuring that they are fully vaccinated and following the measures of public health.
Researchers around the world are rushing to find out whether Omicron is more contagious than the now dominant Delta strain of COVID-19, and whether the new variant is better than Delta at overcoming the virus defenses provided by vaccines.
TPH said it was made aware of a possible exposure on Friday and that the prison began redirecting new admissions to other facilities from Monday. Public visits to the prison have also been suspended, according to the Ministry of the Solicitor General.
“TPH works closely with the facility and the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to minimize risk to staff and inmates, as well as to manage cases and contacts. The agency said.
As of October 1, the Ontario Public Service Workplace Safety COVID-19 Directive requires all public servants in Ontario, including correctional officers, to be fully immunized against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing, according to a ministry spokesperson.
It is not known how many officers are vaccinated, but less than 10 correctional officers refused to comply with the requirement for vaccination or regular testing.
At least one prison in Ontario has ruled out this testing option.
At Maplehurst Correctional Center, which is facing a large outbreak with at least 36 inmate cases, Halton Public Health has issued a section 22 order that prohibits unvaccinated personnel from attending on-site as of 1st December. Halton Public Health lists the total cases linked to the epidemic at age 64.
The prison was the site of the largest prison outbreak in the province earlier this year, with more than 300 cases.
Toronto East has suffered large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks as recently as September and early October, when more than 30 people were infected. Last March, an 85-year-old inmate who had been held at the facility since December was infected and died in hospital.
There have now been more than 10,000 cases related to prisons and prisons in Canada, according to the Prison Pandemic Partnership. There have been more than 2,000 inmate cases in Ontario, with an infection rate of 4.7% between March 2020 and October 2021, according to a note from the Ministry of the Solicitor General.
And while the population was reduced by up to 30 percent at the start of the pandemic, the current prison population has almost reached pre-pandemic levels.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, inmates have been subjected to harsh conditions, including frequent closures that prevent them from leaving their cells, taking showers and making phone calls.
The news came the same day TPH unveiled a new webpage to inform Torontonians of COVID-19 exposures in “large settings where contact details may not be available.”
The web page will be updated at 3 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It will list places where one or more cases of COVID-19 have been detected, with a defined time frame, in public spaces with 20 or more people present.
The addresses of private residences will not be displayed.
In a statement, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s chief public health officer, called the webpage important “as we continue to move forward by returning to many activities that we have missed” during. the pandemic.
“We are sharing this information to help prevent opportunities for the virus to spread and provide residents with instructions they can follow to protect their health and the health of those around them if they may have been exposed to this virus.”