WINNIPEG -- Four variants of concern cases have been identified in three staff members and one resident in Winnipeg long term care homes.

It has the head of an organization which runs three care homes in the city staying cautious even though most residents have now been fully vaccinated.

Two of the confirmed cases are the B.1.1.7 variant, one in a staff member and one resident, have been linked to Heritage Lodge personal care home.

No information has been released about where the other two staff members work.

The vaccination status of the people infected with the variant isn’t known and won’t be released by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority because it’s personal health information.

Charles Gagné, chief executive officer of Actionmarguerite, said outbreaks at its St. Boniface and St. Joseph locations will both be declared over by Mar. 29 due to no new cases in two incubation periods or 28 days.

None of its cases were identified as variants of concern but Gagné said hearing about variant cases in other care homes makes him nervous.

“Our goal still remains the same, whether it be the original variant or any new variant of COVID, is to make sure that we keep this thing out permanently because there still is a risk, despite the vaccination that this virus can take its toll on still a very frail population,” said Gagné. “Therefore, we have to double down, I think, in terms of making sure that we even be more strict in terms of protecting the residents.”

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force, on Wednesday echoed that sentiment.

Reimer stressed the importance of following the fundamentals—mask use, physical distancing and cough etiquette—and asymptomatic testing among care home staff even though the vast majority of personal care home residents in the province have received two doses of the vaccine.

“But that doesn’t mean that we can relax. While the vaccine is very effective at stopping severe illness and death, some jurisdictions have reported transmission of the virus can still occur in people who have received two doses of the vaccine,” Reimer said. “And while the illness in people who are vaccinated appears to be significantly less severe, we still want to take steps to protect others as much as possible.”

Gagné said the outbreak at Actionmarguerite’s St. Boniface location occurred after most residents had received one dose of the vaccine and resulted in 25 residents contracting COVID-19. Three people died.

Gagné said, in general, the care home observed symptoms in residents that were not as severe as what residents experienced in other care homes prior to vaccinations.

“We did attribute to some degree, I think the contribution of the vaccine in terms of mitigating either the risk of hospitalization or the risk of further complexity related to that,” said Gagné. “Unfortunately, we still had those three deaths but the residents themselves, the 22 who did recover, from what I’m told they are recovering relatively well.”

Gagné said the care home is continuing to do surveillance testing among staff and is still following COVID-19 protocols.

Aside from Actionmarguerite’s two locations, the WRHA lists five Winnipeg care homes as having active outbreaks: Heritage Lodge, Oakview Place, River East PCH, Riverview LTC and Tuxedo Villa. An outbreak is declared after the identification of one case.

There were two active cases among personal care home residents and five among staff in Winnipeg as of Tuesday morning.

Two facilities had at least one active resident case and four had at least one active staff case as of Tuesday morning, including one facility that had active cases among both residents and staff. Two facilities have no active cases among staff or residents but remain under an active outbreak.

The WRHA said a clinical lead is providing support to Heritage Lodge, where two variant cases have been identified. The health region said as variant cases appear in the community, it does expect to see cases in personal care homes.

It said while staffing has largely stabilized across the region it continues to monitor the situation closely. The WRHA said processes are in place to ensure assistance if needed.

Revera, the company which runs Heritage Lodge, said both the resident and staff member who contracted the variant are in self-isolation.