Peterborough police chief says investigation into Severn Court outbreak won’t be rushed

Two days after a student died as a result of the outbreak, Scott Gilbert asks for patience as the investigation into possible charges continues

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Severn Court Student Residence near Fleming College in Peterborough resulted from at least one party held at the privately owned student housing complex on Feburary 20, 2021. A 31-year-old Fleming College student who lived at the residence and did not participate in the parties was infected, hospitalized, and subsequently died as a result of his illness. (Photo: Severn Court Management Company)
A COVID-19 outbreak at the Severn Court Student Residence near Fleming College in Peterborough resulted from at least one party held at the privately owned student housing complex on Feburary 20, 2021. A 31-year-old Fleming College student who lived at the residence and did not participate in the parties was infected, hospitalized, and subsequently died as a result of his illness. (Photo: Severn Court Management Company)

As the police probe into the February 20th party or parties at the Severn Court Student Residence continues, Peterborough Police Services Chief Scott Gilbert says while he’s aware of the “great public demand for a speedy conclusion to the investigation,” the required steps that precede the laying of possible charges will not be subject to any shortcuts.

During a Peterborough Public Health media briefing held Thursday (March 18), Chief Gilbert said “an added layer of intricacy” that involves “a lot of close work” with Peterborough Public Health is a factor in the speed of the investigation.

“Peterborough Public Health and Peterborough police have two independent investigations to do (and) Fleming College is also going to be doing their own independent investigation,” said Chief Gilbert.

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“This process involves gathering information and evidence that support any potential charges. There is also a great deal of health information involved and the privacy issues that arise around that information. The process is taking more time and is probably going to require, on our part, production orders and, potentially, search warrants to obtain all of the necessary information.”

Asked if this week’s COVID-related death of a 31-year-old Fleming College student who resided at Severn Court — who CTV News identified on Wednesday as Zachary Root — changes the focus of the investigation and the severity of any possible charges, Chief Gilbert said he’s “not going to speculate on what the outcome of the investigation will be.”

“Right now we’re approaching this investigation as a provincial offences breach under the Reopening Ontario Act. Crown attorneys will be consulted in case evidence leads us in a direction where potentially there is something more than a provincial acts breach. The investigation is ongoing and we’ll see where it takes us.”

Chief Gilbert took aim at social media “rumour mongering” — including demands that criminal charges be laid and prosecuted — as being counterproductive to each investigation involved.

As for the possibility that one or more students involved in the parties could be charged with manslaughter following Root’s death, Chief Gilbert said such a charge was unlikely.

“The threshold for manslaughter is quite high. Quite honestly I don’t see that, but I don’t have a law degree. There are a lot of people that speculate on social media about a lot of stuff. I ask for some patience. Let us do our investigation without all the added layers of conspiracy because that’s really not doing any good.”

Meanwhile, as the probe into the Severn Court outbreak that resulted in 59 positive cases continues, local infection numbers have been trending down last few weeks, from 69 new positive cases the week of March 1st to 20 this week to date.

At present, there are 55 active cases in the Peterborough region, down 26 from March 11th. Also very encouraging is this week’s reporting of 23 active cases per 100,000 people — half of what it was last week.

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That said, the number of total presumed cases of variants of concern (VOC) continues to rise locally, up 37 cases from a week ago for a current total of 126. To date, just one local VOC case has been confirmed out of those 126 presumed cases.

Medical officer of health Dr. Rosanna Salvaterra explained what’s behind the delay in the confirmation of the presumed cases.

“There’s been such an increase in the variants of concern — potentially that explains the delay in their genetic sequencing results,” she said.

“There is now going to be a change in the way the province is testing for variants of concern. The testing that has been done as a screening is going to remain, but they’re going to add another receptor to that testing. Between these two screening tests they will be able to determine which of the variants of concern we’re dealing with.”

“In addition, the province will continue to test five per cent of all positive cases and genetically sequence those. I’m not anticipating we’re going to get many more confirmations as we shift to this new way of identifying variants of concern.”

While the Severn Court outbreak is ongoing, just four of the original 59 positive cases related to are active. Meanwhile, an outbreak at Trent University’s Champlain College that resulted in nine positive cases now has just one case active, and this week’s outbreak at the Brock Mission has resulted in one active case who is now self-isolating.

On the vaccination front, Dr. Salvaterra reported 3,240 appointments were booked this week through the new online booking system for three vaccination clinics at the Evinrude Centre, Peterborough Regional Health Centre, and the Norwood Arena.

Peterborough Public Health’s catchment area of Peterborough city and county and Curve Lake and Hiawatha First Nations remains at the ‘Red-Control’ level of Ontario’s COVID-19 Response Framework – a more restrictive status that has been in place since March 8th.

Also commenting during Thursday’s media briefing were Hiawatha First Nations Chief Laurie Carr and Peterborough board of health chair and Selwyn mayor Andy Mitchell.

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