A COVID-19 patient in Ontario has died, the province’s health minister has confirmed.
Speaking on Tuesday morning, Christine Elliott addressed the fatal case, adding that it is unclear at this time whether the novel coronavirus is in fact the cause of death.
"There has been a death. I’m very sorry and extend my condolences to this person’s family," she said. "We have asked for the assistance of the coroner’s office to do a complete examination and investigation to determine whether this person died because of COVID or with COVID."
According to a spokesperson for Elliott, the Barrie man was never listed as a confirmed case before he died, rather he was under investigation for the virus. COVID-19 was discovered after his death, Travis Kann said.
The 77-year-old man, who died on March 11, could be the first COVID-19 related death in the province. Health officials said that the man had pre-existing medical conditions that would put him at risk.
The man, who had been receiving care at the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, was a close contact of another person visiting from Alberta, who also tested positive for COVID-19, Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said.
The person from Alberta, who was also receiving care at the Barrie hospital, spent time with another individual over several days, who later died in closed spaces, Gardner said.
"These individuals had contact out of the hospital, much more so than in the hospital," he said. "The other individual... did travel from Alberta, [but] not at a time that he would have been infectious or communicable."
Both cases, he added, are not believed to be related to international travel. He said that health officials have not been able to trace back the source of the infection beyond the two individuals.
The hospital has since banned visitors to its campus due to COVID-19 with some exceptions and has closed down its food court. The person from Alberta is still receiving treatment at the hospital.
12 more cases of COVID-19 in Ontario
Elliott’s statement came as 12 additional cases of the virus were confirmed in the province on Tuesday, bringing the total to 190, including five recoveries.
The number of confirmed cases is down drastically from the 32 patients reported in the province on Monday and the record 42 cases reported on Sunday.
All of the new patients announced on Tuesday are self-isolating at home.
Among the cases, five are in Hamilton, three in Kingston, two are in Middlesex London, one is in Waterloo and one is in York Region.
The York Region patient is a man in his 60s, who had recently travelled to Costa Rica.
The Kingston cases include a 44-year-old woman, a 62-year-old woman and a 48-year-old man. They all had recent travel history to Spain, Barbadis and the U.K., according to KFL&A Public Health.
The Waterloo patient was not included in the province’s tally released on Tuesday morning, but was confirmed by the region’s public health unit. The patient is a man in his 20s, who had recently travelled to the United States.
READ MORE: The major COVID-19 developments in Ontario for March 17
The ages and genders of the other patients have not been released by officials and their means of transmission is listed as "pending."
Possibility of community transmission
Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health told reporters on Tuesday there are some cases of COVID-19 infection in Toronto that can only be explained by community transmission of the virus.
“When you have a case in a community that doesn’t have any travel history or a contact – you have to demonstrate there has been spread – that’s easy to say but it’s harder to do," Dr. David Williams said.
Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said that 92 per cent of existing cases in the province can be explained by travel or close contact with a previously confirmed case.
Nearly a third of the travel-related cases involved a trip to the United States, she added.
Yaffe said on Monday that it is taking longer to determine a point of transmission for the virus due to the sharp increase of patients being identified each day.
“We’ve found that the number of new cases has almost doubled in the last few days," she said. “We really cannot definitely rule out community transmission. That is why at this point we feel we need to take some measures.”
The new measures included the recommendation of shutting down all dine-in restaurants and bars in the province, which was imposed as a ban one day later as Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency.
The state of emergency for the province also means a ban of public events of more than 50 people, including parades, events and services within places of worship until March 31.
Symptoms of the virus, which can include fever, cough and shortness of breath, are similar to other respiratory infections.
There are no specific treatments for the virus and there is no vaccine that protects against it.
Health officials said “most people with common human coronavirus illnesses will recover one their own,” but added that “if you need immediate medical attention you should call 911 and mention your travel history and symptoms.”
Here is a map of COVID-19 assessment centres in Toronto: