First GTA Omicron Variant Case Confirmed in COVID-19 Outbreak at Toronto East Detention Center

Toronto Public Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the Toronto East Detention Center and a single case involving a Durham resident has been confirmed to have the Omicron variant.

“There is no evidence of transmission within the environment at this time,” TPH said in a Press release Thursday, adding that the agency was acting with great caution due to concerns about the variant.

“As there are no public-facing operations at this time, the risk to the public remains low.”

No details were provided on the infected person, except that they are “linked” to the detention center on Civic Road in Scarborough, which has had large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks in the past.

The Star, however, has confirmed that the infected person works at the Toronto East Detention Center.

“TPH is working closely with the facility and the Ontario Attorney General’s Office to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to minimize risk to staff and inmates, as well as to conduct case and contact management.” the agency said.

TPH said it was notified of a possible exposure on Friday and the jail began redirecting new admissions to other facilities starting Monday.

Durham Regional Health is now investigating the Omicron infection, the first in the GTA since fears arose about the variant discovered in South Africa.

Durham’s health unit said that “the case is a close contact of a traveler returning from one of the identified countries in southern Africa.

“The Department of Health is also monitoring other COVID-19 cases under investigation for the Omicron variant based on travel history and working with the province to monitor concerning COVID-19 variants, including Delta and Omicron.”

Researchers around the world are rushing to find out if Omicron is more contagious than the now-dominant Delta strain of COVID-19, and if the new variant is better than Delta in overcoming defenses against the virus provided by vaccines.

The news came the same day that TPH released a new website to inform Torontonians of COVID-19 exposures in “large settings where contact information may not be available.”

The website will be updated at 3pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It will list the locations where one or more COVID-19 cases were detected, with a defined time frame, in public areas with 20 or more people present.

The addresses of private homes will not be published.

In a statement, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s chief of public health, called the website important “as we continue to move forward and return to many of the activities that we have missed” during the pandemic.

“We share this information to help prevent opportunities for the virus to spread and equip 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.”

David Rider is the head of Star’s City Council office and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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