KFL&A Public Health says a COVID-19 outbreak at a Kingston construction site has now spread to a total of 61 people.
The health unit said 39 workers caught the virus directly from the site outbreak, and 22 of their close contacts have now also tested positive. One person has since recovered, bringing active cases related to the outbreak down to 60.
In a call with media Thursday, Dr. Kieran Moore said that vaccination bookings opened early, starting Thursday morning, for local construction workers due to the outbreak, allowing for these essential workers to book sooner than in the rest of the province, a date that was originally scheduled for next week.
Still, Moore said vaccine uptake for male construction workers has traditionally been low, so he does not expect the added bookings to greatly affect other populations eligible for vaccinations.
“All the more reason that we’ll have to be making the vaccine accessible and available in multiple different formats for workers no matter what work environment it is,” he said.
The region’s top doc admitted that the health unit got to the outbreak a bit late, and may have missed the opportunity to control it. The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit said Wednesday it was informed that transmission began April 26. The outbreak was not declared until May 2, and by that time, associated cases had already jumped to more than 30.
The health unit said of the 61 total cases linked to the outbreak, only eight are from out-of-region. The construction site was host to more than 900 workers over the last several weeks, many of whom came from outside of KFL&A — mostly from the Leeds, Grenville, Lanark region, York or Ottawa. Still, so far, the majority of the outbreak’s positive cases have come from the local population.
“I do anticipate that we’ll have people hospitalized as a result of this event in our community and our hospital partners are aware,” he said.
Moore said he was surprised by the level of transmission from the site, since from his perspective, the company was following best practices.
This was echoed by the Ministry of Labour, who investigated the outbreak and declared there were no contraventions of public health guidelines, and therefore the matter was closed.
Moore said it’s still unclear how the virus spread so rapidly among staff on site.
“My hunch is that during coffee breaks where you take your mask off, that that’s where the virus spreads. So you can have all the best practices, but there are vulnerable times, such as picking up someone to drive in to work,” he said.
Moore added that local transmission is not only outbreak-related, but is also occurring across the community. The region currently has 128 active cases of the virus.
“We’re seeing cases in Odessa, Sydenham, Kingston Amherstview, Elginburg, Sydenham again, Odessa, Nappanee, Nappanee, Battersea, Hartington, Perth Road, Godfrey. This virus is everywhere in our community and wants to spread,” he said while surveying the list of active cases in the community.
Other than the outbreak, the health unit is seeing transmission through small social gatherings and travel.
“We’ve had transmission at bonfires outdoors as people were within two meters and someone had to have coughed or sneezed,” he said.
He also noted that several people have travelled recently and brought the virus back to the community, including snowbirds returning from the United States, and even some construction workers from Alberta who tested positive before ever stepping foot on a Kingston site.