SUDBURY -- The Porcupine Health Unit (PHU) says the Feb. 12 case previously identified as a possible variant of concern has been confirmed as the region’s first official case.

In a March 6 new release, the PHU said it was notified of the results by the Ontario Public Health Laboratories and detailed how officials determine a positive result.

"As of February 3, 2021, the network of Ontario Public Health Laboratories is screening most positive COVID-19 tests for variants of concern, using a two-part test," read the release.

"The first part looks for a mutation and if positive, there is increased suspicion that a variant of concern is present. The second part is a diagnostic test known as 'whole genome sequencing,' which can confirm if a variant is present, and will identify the exact variant."

Officials say the individual was exposed through contact with a known case located in an area where the variant of concern is present, in this case, the COVID-19 variant B.1.351 or 501Y.V2 first detected in South Africa.

Medical Officer of Health for the PHU, Dr. Lianne Catton, said that increased variant numbers across northern Ontario is a cause for concern for every community in the region.

"The numbers of cases linked to variants of concerns are increasing across the province. We are urging everyone to be diligent – regardless of the community you are in – we are seeing more variants across the north and we cannot be cautious enough," said Dr. Catton in the release.

"COVID-19 variants have been proven to be more contagious than the initial strain of COVID-19. That being said, the best way to prevent the transmission of any new variant of COVID-19 is to follow the public health measures that have proven to be effective."

The Porcupine Health Unit is located in Northeastern Ontario, serving the entire Cochrane District and Hornepayne, in Algoma District.

The main office is located in Timmins, Ontario, with branch offices in Cochrane, Hearst, Hornepayne, Iroquois Falls, Kapuskasing, Matheson, Moosonee and Smooth Rock Falls.