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Roberta Place in Barrie, Ont. detects COVID-19 variant, reports 27 total deaths

Workers arrive at the Roberta Place Long Term Care home in Barrie, Ont. on Monday, January 18, 2021. The home has seen an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff and residents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

An outbreak in a long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., has resulted in more than two dozen deaths after a yet-to-be-identified variant of COVID-19 was detected at the facility.

The virus has sickened 122 residents and 81 staff at Roberta Place – which has 137 beds – since the outbreak began earlier this month, public health officials said Friday.

The number of deaths reported at the facility climbed from 19 to 27 between Thursday and Friday.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said it has given the COVID-19 vaccine to all eligible residents and staff at a nearby retirement home “in an effort to protect them against what is highly likely a variant of the virus.”

Immunization of residents at other long-term care and retirement homes throughout the region will also begin this weekend, it said.

The unit said its supply of the vaccine is “extremely low and uncertain” due to the shipment delays of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“Barrie has become ground zero for what is likely a COVID-19 variant of concern, which has spread rapidly throughout Roberta Place,” the region’s medical officer of health said in a written statement.

Dr. Charles Gardner said they are concerned that the virus variant will spread into the community and other long-term care and retirement homes.

The unusually rapid spread of the virus at the nursing home prompted officials to test for variants of COVID-19.

In the coming days, officials are expected to confirm which specific variant – strains from the U.K., South Africa, or Brazil – was detected at the home during initial testing.

Researchers have yet to determine whether any of the new variants are more deadly, but the U.K. strain is known to spread much faster.

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