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York Region holding COVID-19 variant cases ‘in check,’ says top doc

However, with 171 variant cases confirmed, students and staff with just one COVID-19 symptom — even if it's mild — must not attend school, Dr. Karim Kurji says
2021-02-15 Dr. Karim Kurji
York Region medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji in a Feb. 15 video.

While there are currently 171 variant cases here, York Region has the faster spreading strains of COVID-19 “under control,” according to its medical officer of health.

While the numbers of new cases and institutional outbreaks are continuing to decline, “the wild card here has been the variants,” said Dr. Karim Kurji.

“We are closely monitoring them epidemiologically, and so far we feel they are under control.”

As of Feb. 14, York Region has identified 171 variant cases: 49 cases are confirmed as the B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant; and 122 cases are awaiting determination of lineage.

All 49 of the U.K. variant cases are resolved, and of the additional 122 cases, 75 are resolved, 41 are self-isolating and six are in hospital. 

Of the seven cases currently identified in Newmarket, the two U.K. variant cases that were acquired by local transmission are resolved, as are the five cases awaiting lineage identification that were acquired by close contact.  

Vaughan currently has 77 variant cases, Markham has 46, Richmond Hill has 21, Georgina has seven, King has five, Aurora has four and East Gwillimbury has three.

No variant cases have been identified in Whitchurch-Stouffville. 

York Region Public Health’s “aggressive” case and contact management, the closures and requirements for COVID-19 tests at international borders, and the “cooperation and vigilance” of the public are helping to “keep these variants in check,” Kurji said in his online video update today.

“However, it is imperative that you stay at home as much as possible, and if you do go out, make sure you are keeping your physical distance of two metres or more, and any encounters with people outside your households be kept as brief as possible,” he added.

“We have seen media reports of how easily the variant spreads, so be careful there.”

As a result of the presence of variants in the community, Kurji reminded parents that with the return of students to school tomorrow, Feb. 16, the screening tool has been tightened up.

“Essentially, what it involves is staff and students should not be going into schools even if they have one symptom of COVID-19 — even though it may be mild,” Kurji said.

Students and staff with a symptom should go for testing at the assessment centre at their local hospital.

In addition, all members of the household must also isolate at home, he added.

Students and staff should also stay at home if anyone in the household is sick or at high risk, or a close contact of a confirmed case, or has travelled abroad recently, Kurji said.

Asymptomatic screening will be offered at about 5 per cent of York Region schools to students without symptoms, particularly in areas where it’s suspected the variant exists and where there have been higher numbers of COVID-19 cases, he added.

The public health unit is also exploring options to open additional testing locations for symptomatic students and staff, outside of the three hospital assessment centres in York Region.

The province has also updated its rules to require that masks be worn by all students in grades 1 to 12 when indoors, or outdoors when they are unable to physically distance.

No congregation, or gathering, is permitted before and after school.

You can find more information about COVID-19 and schools, and access the new screening tool, here.