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Kingston region expected to move into yellow COVID-19 zone due to rising case counts

Click to play video: 'Kingston region expected to move into yellow COVID-19 zone due to rising case counts' Kingston region expected to move into yellow COVID-19 zone due to rising case counts
KFL&A MOH's concerns grow over the spread of a specific COVID-19 variant. The region moves into yellow as of Monday at 12:01 a.m. – Mar 21, 2021

The KFL&A region saw 19 more cases of COVID-19 Thursday and Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for the region, says to expect more of the same in the coming weeks.

“We’re anticipating those types of numbers every day going forward,” Moore said in an interview with media Thursday.

With these rising numbers, he says to expect a move from green, the province’s lowest level in its COVID-19 response framework, to yellow, or even orange by Friday.

Read more: Coronavirus: 7 more cases associated with Queen’s University, 40 active in Kingston region

We rapidly have accelerated from green to yellow. From a number of vantage points, we are touching on or are in the orange zone,” he said.

The one thing that gives him solace, he says, is that there is currently little impact on the health-care system, since no one is hospitalized with the virus.

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With 69 active cases in the region, Moore says the City of Kingston more than its rural counterparts in KFL&A is hurtling the region towards the peak numbers seen in December 2020, with 112 active cases.

Moore says the variant of concern is to blame for these rising numbers.

Most of these cases, Moore said, are concentrated among the Queen’s University community, with 55 students and 14 other members making up Thursday’s active cases.

The Queen’s University outbreak originated from one person who travelled and then spread it to students living in Watts Hall, a residence on campus at Queen’s, and then to mostly off-campus contacts.

The health unit is currently tracking two clusters of the virus, one with a variant and one with the first-known strain of the virus.

Click to play video: 'Queen’s University as well as Kingston-area health unit asking some students to get tested' Queen’s University as well as Kingston-area health unit asking some students to get tested
Queen’s University as well as Kingston-area health unit asking some students to get tested – Mar 16, 2021

“A significant number of the tests are turning positive for the variant of concern, so over 50 percent of the results to date are variants. It’s most likely to B.1.1.7. variant, although it takes almost a month to get the sequencing back,” he said.

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The health unit reported six more variant cases in the region Thursday, for a total of 27 variant cases in KFL&A.

Despite the rapid growth within the Queen’s community, Moore said the virus does not seem to be propagating in the broader community at the same rate.

This is mainly affecting young and healthy individuals who are following the public health rules, who are isolating appropriately and or quarantining appropriately,” he said.

He also noted that there has yet to be any positive cases linked to a major party on Brock Street Friday night, with over 140 people in attendance.

We haven’t found it link as linked as a super spreading event. But during our case in contact management, we certainly ask about potential acquisition sources and haven’t found a direct link,” he said.

For now, contact tracers seem to be finding the spread taking place between small groups, which is to be expected, Moore says, due to the presence of the more contagious variant.

Wednesday, Moore chose to extend a public health order that limits gatherings inside and outside (in the city of Kingston alone) to only five people, and adds extra regulations for restaurants. He hopes this move will help quell the spread of the virus while the health unit tries to get this outbreak under control. He says it usually takes about two incubation periods of the virus to get a handle on outbreaks.

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Read more: Public health order that limits gatherings extended in Kingston until end of April

“I do think at this critical time, (regulations are) essential. I absolutely understand the implications on families and understand the mental, physical and social needs of our community. But I’m asking for those four extra weeks at present,” he said.

The public health order, first implemented to curtail large parties over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, has now been extended until April 30, but Moore said he will revisit the need for it each week. If progress is made, he’ll reduce the regulations.

Moore says he believes the order was effective in curbing parties on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. Kingston city bylaw said they handed out two summons under the Section 22 order Wednesday evening, and only one the weekend previous.

Click to play video: 'Authorities in Kingston step up patrols of the Queen’s University District to try and keep a lid on St. Patrick’s Day parties' Authorities in Kingston step up patrols of the Queen’s University District to try and keep a lid on St. Patrick’s Day parties
Authorities in Kingston step up patrols of the Queen’s University District to try and keep a lid on St. Patrick’s Day parties – Mar 17, 2021

Along with the restrictions he imposed, Moore says the conversations he’s had this week with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health indicates that the region will most likely move into the yellow zone, which will itself bring new restrictions like limited hours for restaurants.

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But in the end, what colour we go is not up to Moore.

“The cabinet makes a decision whether we’re moving forward based on our local epidemiology, from green to yellow to orange,” he said.

If cases continue to grow, and Moore starts to see doubling of daily case counts, he says it will be time for the province to pull the emergency break and shutter KFL&A into the grey – lockdown level.

“We’ve built in a capacity for case and contact management of around 50 new cases a day. If we ever get past our ability and we’ve had a strong ability to contact everyone within 24 hours, I would start waving the white flag that we could potentially lose control at that point,” Moore said.

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