During Thursday’s media conference hosted by Peterborough Public Health, police Chief Scott Gilbert says while he understands there’s a “great public demand” for a conclusion into the investigation, he notes it’s a challenging one as they work with health information and privacy issues.
The outbreak was declared on Feb. 20. As of Thursday morning, the health unit reported 59 cases at privately run Severn Court and the death of a man on Monday.
Large social gatherings have been cited as the cause of the outbreak, which claimed the life of a Fleming College accounting student, identified by CTV News as Zachary Root, who lived at Severn Court.
The health unit notes Root did not attend the gatherings at the residences on Wilfred Drive near Fleming.
There are four active cases of COVID-19 at Severn Court as of Thursday morning. The outbreak at Champlain College student residence at Trent University has nine cases linked to the Severn Court outbreak. There is only one active case as of Thursday. Both residences remain under a Section 22 order.
“The investigation is very important — it needs to be recognized that there’s an added layer of intricacy in this as it is happening,” said Gilbert.
“And it does involve a lot of close work with Peterborough Public Health, who are working very hard to not only contain the outbreak in a pandemic but also prevent further harm in our communities.”
Gilbert says police and the health unit are conducting independent investigations. Police launched their investigation on March 3. Fleming College is launching its own investigation next week.
Fleming College to independently investigate after student dies from COVID-19 variant through outbreak at Severn Court Student Residence
To date police have not laid any charges, Gilbert noted, expressing condolences to Root’s family and friends.
“This process involves gathering information and evidence to support any potential charges, along with working with enforcement officials at Peterborough Public Health,” he said in response to inquires from Global News.
“However, there is a great deal of health information involved and privacy issues that revolve around that information.
“So the process is taking more time and it will probably require production orders and potentially search warrants to obtain all of the necessary information.”
Gilbert said police approached the investigation as a Provincial Offences Act breach under the Reopening Ontario Act. However, investigators will consult Crown attorneys to determine if any criminal charges could be applicable.
When asked by media, he said a manslaughter charge was “not likely.”
“Still, we’re going to be consulting with Crown attorneys in relation to search warrants or production orders should we go down that path,” he said. “That being said, Crown attorneys will be consulted in case evidence does lead us in a direction where there is potentially something more than a Provincial Offences Act breach.
“But I can’t say what the future is going to hold — the investigation is ongoing and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, medical officer of health, says the student death doesn’t change their investigation as they continue to work with COVID-19 cases and their contacts.
However, she says the death has taken an emotional toll on staff.
“This was a major setback for us as far as the tragedy — many of our staff had come to know the particular individual,” she said. “This was felt very deeply by all of us here at Peterborough Public Health.
“I had a chance to speak with a family member and it’s heartbreaking to lose someone so young.”
Salvaterra says the extent of the spread of the variant cases continues to be investigated, calling it “quite extensive.”
“Many of our cases — not all — in the community have been linked one way or another either as a secondary case or potentially as a household contact of a secondary case,” she said.
In total, the health unit has reported 137 cases of COVID-19 so far this month. There were 198 cases reported in January and 105 in February.
— More to come
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