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Kingston health unit declares COVID-19 outbreak in Queen’s University district

Queen's University is dealing with a significant jump in COVID-19 cases this week. Matt Head / Global Kingston

KFL&A Public Health has declared a COVID-19 outbreak in the Queen’s University district.

The outbreak involves 70 active cases found in young adults aged 18 to 29. Infections linked to the outbreak currently make up more than 70 per cent of the active cases in the region, the health unit said.

Read more: Some Queen’s students going through disciplinary processes, evictions for COVID-19 breaches

The health unit says their investigators have found that transmission is occurring during “close, unprotected contact between individuals in social settings (including large gatherings) where physical distancing is limited, and face coverings are not being worn.”

This is the second outbreak to be linked to the school since March.

Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for the region, asked local young people to take the virus seriously.

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“These are not normal circumstances with the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 variants, we urge young adults to act in a responsible and conscientious way to protect others in our community,” said Dr. Moore.

On the same day the outbreak was declared, groupings of mostly young people were scattered throughout Breakwater Park, along the waterfront near the university, despite the province’s stay-at-home order which makes it illegal to leave the house for non-essential purposes. Many were unmasked and neglecting to social distance. The beach at Breakwater Park was closed by the city of Kingston on March 22 to try to curb gatherings like these.

The city says bylaw officers have been patrolling the area all week, and have been at Breakwater Park since 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

As of Thursday at 5 p.m., bylaw has not issued any fines at the park.

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“Enforcement officers have reported that all the groups are of five or fewer,” the city said.

The city says that although non-essential activities are a fineable offence under the stay-at-home order, people are allowed to exercise and use recreational spaces that are still open for exercising.

Thursday afternoon, Queen’s University principal Patrick Deane urged his students to conduct themselves in a “manner that recognizes the current pandemic situation is very serious.”

“I have spoken with our local hospital administration and am told that our health-care facilities are in a critical situation with very little remaining capacity to assist patients. We must do everything we can to keep ourselves and others safe, and by that means, alleviate the strain on our hospitals,” he said.

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Just Thursday, Global News learned that several ICU beds at Kingston General Hospital have been taken up by overflow COVID-19 patients from other regions. Kingston’s main ICU unit is already full, despite no local hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

In a statement, Moore begged people to stay home and follow public health measures, as variants are driving cases in the Kingston region.

“Fines will be given if provincial restrictions are not adhered to—stay home, limit social interactions to those in your household, and avoid unnecessary trips outside your home,” Moore said.

As of early Wednesday evening, the university’s COVID-19 tracker has reported 33 cases linked to the school off-campus since Monday. The tracker has yet to be updated for Thursday.

KFL&A Public health reported 18 new cases Thursday, pushing the number of active cases in the region up to 95.

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