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COVID-19: 1 death, record 176 cases reported in London-Middlesex: MLHU

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One new death and a record 176 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in London and Middlesex, local health officials reported Wednesday.

The jump surpasses the previous record of 163 set just on Saturday, and brings the region’s pandemic case tally to 8,752, of which 7,376 have resolved, an increase of 128 from the day before.

It’s at least the 10th day this month that London-Middlesex has recorded a triple-digit case increase, the most of any month so far. January recorded eight.

At least 193 deaths have been reported. Wednesday’s reported death involved a man in his 80s who was not associated with a long-term care home, the health unit said. The death is the third reported this week.

The health unit says at least 1,183 cases are currently active in the region.

At least 1,571 cases have been reported since the month began, more than were recorded in February and March combined. The tally is also about 164 cases shy of the total seen in December, the region’s second-worst month for cases.

The local test positivity rate stood at 7.7 per cent as of the week of April 4, up from 5.9 the week prior, according to the most recent figures. The tally is based on 10,328 tests compared to 10,527 a week earlier. The provincial rate for the week of April 4 was 8.3 per cent.

Read more: COVID-19 variants: Not the same disease

Of the 176 new cases, data was only available for 173 of them.

Of those, 157 were from London, 15 were from Middlesex County, and one has pending location data.

Cases were relatively spread out among multiple age groups, but was still concentrated for the most part in people under 40, making up roughly 62 per cent.

Thirty-eight cases involve people 19 or younger; 39 are in their 20s; 31 are in their 30s; 17 are in their 40s; 28 are in their 50s; 14 are in their 60s; three are in their 70s; and three are 80 or older.

At least 115 cases had pending or undetermined exposure source data, while 28 are said to be linked to outbreaks and 27 to close contact. Three had no known link.

Click to play video: 22-year-old on recovering from B.1.1.7 variant

The number of variant cases in London-Middlesex stands at 746 after the health unit updated how it reports variants of concern and the terminology it uses.

The health unit says the change is to bring the way local variant cases are reported in line with how the province reports variants.

The move means that cases presumed to be the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K., are now being factored into a single tally along with cases that have undergone genomic analysis and confirmed to involve a variant.

Determining that a case is a variant is a multi-step process. Positive COVID-19 cases undergo initial screening for spike protein mutations common to variants (N501Y, E484K, and K417N), and if found to have one or more, undergo further genomic analysis to determine the specific variant involved, a process that can take up to two weeks.

Since last month, however, the province has stopped conducting genomic analysis on cases which screen positive for just the N501Y mutation. Now, those cases are presumed to involve the B.1.1.7 variant, as that variant has only been associated with the N501Y mutation.

Cases that screen positive for either the E484K or K417N mutations are still being sent for genomic analysis as they have been associated with the B.1.351 and P.1 variants, first detected in South Africa and Brazil, respectively.

A chart from MLHU showing overall variant; cases that have screened positive for one or more spike gene mutations consistent with a variant (but that have not yet undergone full genomic sequencing); variant and screened mutation cases by age; and cases by episode week. (Note: data for the week of April 11 is still incoming.)

A chart from MLHU showing overall variant; cases that have screened positive for one or more spike gene mutations consistent with a variant (but that have not yet undergone full genomic sequencing); variant and screened mutation cases by age; and cases by episode week. (Note: data for the week of April 11 is still incoming.)

Middlesex-London Health Unit

So far, the health unit says the region has recorded at least 745 cases involving the B.1.1.7 variant (both confirmed and presumed), and one case of the P.1 variant from Brazil that has been confirmed through genomic analysis, the region’s first.

An additional 47 cases have screened positive for the E484K mutation and are undergoing genomic analysis, including 37 which have been found to also have the N501Y mutation.

The health unit says another 139 have screened positive for the N501Y mutation, but they have not been added to the region’s variant tally as the E484K mutation has not been ruled out for any of them.

According to health unit figures, people under 30 account for nearly 70 per cent of the region’s variant caseload.

Variants have contributed to a large chunk of recent local cases — upwards of 52 per cent of cases seen during the week of March 28 and 35 per cent the week of April 4, health unit data shows.

Read more: AstraZeneca vaccine still safe despite ‘stronger link’ to blood clots, Health Canada says

The London region has been swamped with cases in recent weeks, with test positivity rates increasing in most areas overseen by the Middlesex-London Health Unit, driven predominantly through social clusters and congregate settings, including outbreaks at Western student residences, according to the health unit.

One postal code in particular, N6A, has seen that figure grow exponentially, with nearly 30 per cent of tests coming back positive as of April 3, the most of anywhere in Ontario at the time, according to provincial data made public by the non-profit health research firm ICES.

N6A encompasses part of Western University’s campus, off-campus student neighbourhoods and about half of Old North, as well as much of the downtown core and Richmond Row.

Dr. Alex Summers, the region’s associate medical officer of health, said the data looked at the end of March into the beginning of April, when the health unit started seeing significantly higher case counts among people aged 18 to 22.

“We have had pronounced activity amongst that age bracket as identified as well in those large resident outbreaks associated with the university campus,” Summers said.

“We know that that population has also pursued testing, they are playing their part to the best that they are able. Certainly, to see that postal code with such high per cent positivity is consistent with where we have seen cases, particularly over the last two to three weeks.”

Read more: Liberals expected to spend big on federal budget as pandemic lingers, election looms 

During Monday’s media briefing, London Mayor Ed Holder said he was continuing to push the province to designate London, or at least a specific area of London, as a COVID-19 hot spot, opening it up to more resources and vaccine doses.

Later in the briefing, Summers was asked whether N6A should be designated a hot spot.

“The epidemiologic definition of a ‘hot spot’ is is not a definitively defined thing. Certainly within our region, that N6A postal code has been a hot spot,” he said, referencing the student outbreaks and the surge in cases among younger age groups.

Regardless if the region is designated a hot spot, Holder said “none of this means a damn” if people don’t follow the rules.

“I just want to say to the folks that aren’t following the rules: stop it.”

“The best way to handle this issue is to stop the congregating, is to stop the issues around not wearing a mask, to stop the issues about not doing hygiene. We talk about all of the right things at this level, but sometimes we have to sort out the sinners, and you get to a point where you say ‘enough,” Holder said.

Click to play video: Premier Doug Ford defends Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout

The surge in cases has prompted the health unit to begin asking lower-risk cases to help in local contact tracing efforts which have become overwhelmed.

Lower-risk cases are being asked to assist the health unit in notifying their close contacts of their exposure and providing directions on how to quarantine. Higher-risk cases, such as those in primary care settings and riskier workplaces, are still being fully investigated.

“We’re no longer able to follow up in detail with every case,” Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s medical officer of health, said Monday.

“We are notifying cases to make sure that they are aware of their diagnosis and know how they should handle themselves, but the next step of contact tracing is something that we can’t do fully at this point.”

At least 7,762 cases have been confirmed in the City of London since the pandemic began, while 304 have been in Middlesex Centre.

Elsewhere, 266 cases have been in Strathroy-Caradoc, 110 in Thames Centre, 60 in Lucan Biddulph, 52 in North Middlesex, 51 in Southwest Middlesex, 14 in Adelaide Metcalfe and two in Newbury.

At least 131 cases have pending location information.

Hospitalizations

At least 52 COVID-19 inpatients are in the care of London Health Sciences Centre as of Wednesday, with 18 of them in critical or intensive care — tallies that are both unchanged from Tuesday.

Dr. Adam Dukelow, LHSC’s chief medical officer, said earlier this week that only seven people in the ICU are from outside of London, and that the average age of patients admitted to hospital recently was 54.

Meanwhile, nine staff cases are active within LHSC, a decline of one from the day before.

St. Joseph’s Health Care London (SJHCL) listed no COVID-19 patients in the care of St. Joseph’s Hospital, however at least 28 cases are active within the organization as a whole.

There are eight patient and 12 staff cases within SJHCL linked to an outbreak at Parkwood Institute’s Mental Health Care Building, and eight staff cases that are not outbreak-related.

Read more: ‘A desperate time’: Ontario hospitals move doctors from other roles to ICUs to avoid ‘total collapse’

Hospitals have been ramping down elective surgeries and non-urgent procedures across Ontario to deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients.

Locally, Dr. Dukelow said LHSC’s surgical activity has been reduced roughly 30 per cent at both University and Victoria hospitals to make more room, and staff have been redeployed within the organization.

LHSC has converted some beds normally used for surgical patients into beds for medical patients, like those with COVID, he said. SJHCL has also opened additional surge space and is allowing LHSC to transfer some less acutely ill patients there.

He said they anticipated rising hospitalizations over the course of the week.

At least 410 people in London-Middlesex have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 during the pandemic, including 71 in intensive care, the health unit says.

Outbreaks

No new institutional outbreaks have been declared or resolved.

Two outbreaks remain active at health-care institutions, both at Parkwood Institute’s Mental Health Care Building (G2, G5, and H2).

Officials with St. Joseph’s Health Care London say the Parkwood outbreaks have been linked to at least 12 cases involving health-care workers and eight involving patients.

Elsewhere, a workplace outbreak remains active at a major London meat processing facility.

The outbreak at Cargill has been linked to at least 82 cases, a company spokesperson confirmed to 980 CFPL on Tuesday. The surge in cases has prompted production there to be temporarily halted.

“We are taking this step out of an abundance of caution as our local workforce deals with the community-wide impacts of COVID-19,” the company said in a statement.

“As we work in partnership with the union, our employees will receive a weekly guarantee of 36 hours of pay.”

It was not stated when exactly officials planned to have the plant back up and running.

Read more: COVID-19: Why hasn’t London’s N6A been deemed an Ontario hot spot?

An outbreak at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre also remains ongoing, with at least 13 active cases among the inmate population as of Monday. Six were active at the jail as of April 8.

At least four staff cases are also active at the jail, according to a spokesperson with the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

Declared on Jan. 18, the EMDC outbreak has been linked to at least 49 inmate cases and at least 34 staff cases.

Details on the Western University outbreaks can be found below.

Schools

At least four new school-linked cases have been reported in the London-Middlesex area.

One case each was reported involving H.B. Beal Secondary School and Westmount Public School, according to the Thames Valley District School Board.

Within the London District Catholic School Board, one new case each was reported at St. Mark Catholic School and St. Francis School, both in London.

At least 28 school-linked cases are active in the region. A full list can be found on the MLHU website. Schools are on spring break right now, but will move to online learning for the foreseeable future starting next week.

Outbreaks are also still active involving:

  • Providence Reformed Collegiate
  • East Carling Public School
  • St. Anne’s Catholic School
  • Holy Rosary Catholic School
  • Northridge Public School
  • Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School
  • Riverbend Academy

At least 310 cases involving elementary and secondary schools in the region have been reported during the pandemic.

Click to play video: Educators face another hurdle in a year that’s been full of ups and downs

At least 38 cases involving child care/early years settings have been confirmed during the pandemic, an increase of three from the day before. At least nine cases are active, associated with three facilities.

Five cases are associated with Faith Day Nursery in London, which declared an outbreak on Tuesday, the health unit said.

Elsewhere, three cases are associated with Kodorable Child Care Centre in London, which declared an outbreak on April 8, while one case is associated with Stoneybrook Early Childhood Learning Centre – London Bridge.

Read more: Group urges province to open COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration to all Ontarians

In post-secondary, outbreaks also remain active in eight student residences involving Western University.

Together, they’re associated with at least 138 cases as of Monday, with 44 alone located at Saugeen-Maitland Hall, Western University’s largest student residence.

In all, seven of Western’s eight first-year student residences have active outbreaks.

Outbreaks are active at:

  • King’s Commons – 7 cases
  • Essex Hall – 8 cases
  • Perth Hall – 9 cases
  • Elgin Hall – 10 cases
  • Delaware Hall – 16 cases
  • Ontario Hall – 17 cases
  • Medway-Sydenham Hall – 27 cases
  • Saugeen-Maitland Hall – 44 cases

During Monday’s briefing, Dr. Alex Summers noted that many students were now returning home as the semester had formally ended.

“The university moved to remote learning over a week ago and we’re now into exam season and much of that can be done remotely. Many students are returning home (and) that will certainly make a difference with regards to the risk of transmission within residence,” he said.

“We also saw some substantial numbers from social gatherings related both to non-post-secondary students as well as to post-secondary students, and our hope is that the stay-at-home order will play a major role in disrupting further transmission moving forward.

Vaccinations and Testing

The local vaccination campaign continues to roll on, with more than 108,000 doses administered locally. An update is expected on Thursday.

People aged 60 and older became vaccine eligible as of Tuesday, and officials say bookings are being made as far as four weeks out.

Roughly 14,895 doses were administered the week of April 5, the most so far.

Click to play video: Health Canada says AstraZeneca vaccine still safe, despite ‘stronger link’ to rare blood clots

More information on eligibility can be found on the MLHU’s website.

Eligible residents are asked to visit the local vaccine booking website or call 226-289-3560 to book an appointment at one of the region’s three mass vaccination clinics. Online appointments are encouraged due to the high call volume.

Doses of the AstraZeneca shot are also being administered at local pharmacies as part of a provincially run pilot. At least 26 were giving the shot just in the city of London as of earlier this week.

A full list of participating pharmacies can be found on the province’s website. Residents are asked to book a spot with the pharmacies themselves.

Read more: Most Canadians say type of COVID-19 vaccine instrumental in whether or not they get it: poll

The region’s two main assessment centres, at Carling Heights and Oakridge Arena, remain open and operating by appointment.

According to the health unit, roughly 5.9 per cent of tests were coming back positive as of the week of March 28, up from 3.2 per cent the week before and 1.6 the week before that.

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Ontario

Ontario is reporting 4,156 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the provincial total to 398,835.

Wednesday’s case count is up from Tuesday’s which saw 3,670 new infections. On Monday, 4,401 new cases were recorded.

According to Wednesday’s report, 1,254 cases were recorded in Toronto, 593 in Peel Region, 476 in York Region, 340 in Ottawa, 248 in Durham Region, 192 in Halton Region and 189 in Hamilton.

The death toll in the province has risen to 7,610 as 28 more deaths were recorded — the largest increase in deaths since mid-February and a third wave high.

Read more: Ontario reports more than 4,100 new COVID-19 cases, 28 deaths

Meanwhile, 354,417 Ontario residents were reported to have recovered from COVID-19, which is about 89 per cent of known cases. Resolved cases increased by 3,160 from the previous day.

Ontario reported 1,877 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 (up by 55 from the previous day) with an all-time high of 642 patients in intensive care units (up by 16) and 442 patients in ICUs on a ventilator (up by 20).

Active cases in Ontario now stand at 36,808 — up from the previous day when it was at 35,840, and up from April 7 when it was at 27,359.

The government said 54,211 tests were processed in the last 24 hours. There is currently a backlog of 45,248 tests awaiting results. A total of 13,238,455 tests have been completed since the start of the pandemic.

— Neighbouring health units will be added later.

— With files from Gabby Rodrigues and The Canadian Press

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