Community spread of COVID-19 confirmed, Kingston region declares states of emergency

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WATCH: The City of Kingston has declared a state of emergency due to evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in the KFL&A region – Mar 26, 2020

The City of Kingston has made an emergency declaration after receiving confirmation that COVID-19 has spread through the community in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington region.

KFL&A Public Health announced two new cases of the virus in the Kingston region Thursday, bringing the total up to 16. Public health officials believe three of these 16 cases were contracted within the community since the patients have no recent travel history and do not know of any close contacts who have the disease.

Along with many other municipalities in the area, including those in Lennox and Addington and Frontenac counties, Mayor Bryan Paterson announced Thursday that Kingston would be following the province’s lead and calling for a municipal state of emergency.

READ MORE: Ontario government declares state of emergency amid coronavirus pandemic

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“This is about making sure we’re taking every step possible to support our community during this challenging time. We need access to any and all resources available and this declaration provides more flexibility to take local action,” Paterson said in a news release.

Both Paterson and Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for KFL&A Public Health, say declaring a state of emergency is meant to hammer home to residents to strictly adhere to public health guidelines over the next several weeks.

Now that there’s evidence of community spread, Moore said it’s a critical time to aggressively try to slow the spread of the disease in the region.

“This is a potential turning point for our community. [It’s important] that we all adhere to social, physical distancing, that we can’t have birthday parties and social parties,” Moore said.

Moore noted that some of those who tested positive for the disease in the region reported going to small social gatherings like birthday parties. These types of activities, he says, will have to stop.

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“When we have been talking to people who have had a diagnosis of COVID-19, they have had small social gatherings in the community that could have allowed the spread,” Moore said.

Paterson said calling for a state of emergency was meant to advise those in Kingston there is community spread and urge them to take the appropriate prevention strategies seriously.

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“We wanted to let the community know that and now re-emphasize the importance of a physical distancing, social distancing to be able to protect ourselves and to protect each other,” Paterson said.

On Wednesday, KFL&A Public Health announced that two health-care professionals in the region had contracted the disease, causing the closure of a medical clinic in Northbrook, Ont.

In a Facebook post, a second medical practice in Verona, Ont., confirmed it was closing due to a positive COVID-19 case, but it did not confirm whether the case involved a health-care worker.

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Also on Wednesday, during a board of health meeting, Moore suggested that neither health professional had recently travelled, making it possible that the virus had spread through the community.

On Thursday, the City of Kingston said there was evidence the virus had, indeed, spread through the community. Following this announcement, KFL&A Public Health confirmed that evidence shows three local COVID-19 patients were likely to have caught the disease through community contacts.

READ MORE: Health care professionals at 2 clinics test positive for COVID-19 in KFL&A region

A declaration of an emergency allows the city to use all available options to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents.

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“It enables the city to be nimble, to act quickly without having to come to council. If there’s something that we need to respond to right away to support residents or to protect the health of residents, that we can immediately action that,” Paterson said.

The state of emergency is effective immediately and will remain in effect until further notice, a city news release said.

Despite the announcement of the state of emergency, the city will continue to run essential services including emergency services, the Rideaucrest Long-Term Care Home, social services, waste collection and all other city services.

“This declaration is not meant to stir up panic. It’s meant to trigger action” Paterson said. “Our decisions have a real impact. Please, do your part. Listen to our health professionals. Stay at home. Practise physical distancing. And together, we’ll get through this.” ​