The health unit reported 359 new cases of COVID-19 in the KFL&A region since Friday, bringing active cases to 908. Just a week ago, the region was standing at 363 active cases, the most it had ever seen over the course of the pandemic.
Dr. Piotr Oglaza, medical officer of health for the region, said Omicron is likely making up half of the region’s active cases as of Monday, and will more than likely take over as the dominant strain in the region next week.
Dr. Gerald Evans, a Kingston-based infectious disease expert, agreed.
“There’s no question Omicron will be the dominant variant. It took all of about 24 days in South Africa for Delta to drop to almost zero and for Omicron to rise,” he said.
Oglaza said that so far, the region has 263 suspected cases of Omicron. Although these cases are not confirmed, Evans says genome sequencing of the swabs can be done at local Kingston labs with five to seven days.
“We are one of the few laboratories across the province that has capacity to do whole genome sequencing. We’re doing it as rapidly as we can,” Evans said.
Evans says its unclear why things got so bad so quickly in Kingston, which has generally escaped higher transmission over the last two years. The first person to test positive for the variant likely caught it Nov. 28, and had no travel history.
“As to why it happened here, I think it’s just probably a little bit of serendipity,” he said.
“I think the only surprise was, many of us thought it was going to pop up in cities with international gateways and airports, but instead it happened here in Kingston, where we don’t have that.”
With a case rate of more than 350, KFL&A is one of the worst hit public health units in Ontario. Still, Evans says the rest of the province is not far behind.
“My estimation when we look at what the doubling time is for cases of Omicron that have been seen around the world, both in the U.K., Denmark, South Africa, I wouldn’t say we’re a week ahead of the the province, I think we’re probably maybe about three days ahead of the province,” he added.
Evans says, so far, none of the patients currently being treated in Kingston ICUs are sick from the new variant — all these patients are dealing with the effects of the Delta variant.
Still, the doctor gave fair warning that even if Omicron does turn out to be milder but more contagious, a rapid rise in case counts will eventually lead to higher hospitalizations.
As of Monday, 35 patients are being treated for COVID-19 in Kingston hospitals, 14 in intensive care units, and nine on ventilators. Dr. David Pichora, president and CEO of Kignston Health Sciences Centre, says the hospital was forced once again to send off two critical care patients to other hospitals this weekend to take pressure off of the Kingston system.
“I think people have this view at the moment that, you know, we’re seeing signals that it doesn’t look that bad, but it can look bad if you drive up the numbers,” Evans said.
The seemingly unstoppable rise in COVID-19 locally has prompted an increased need for tests in the region, which are in short supply and high demand.
Both Oglaza and Evans noted that because of local labs, KFL&A has the ability to test up to 3,000 of people a day, a number ample enough to deal with demand. Still, tests are not available for all who need them locally because local assessment centres can’t staff for that many appointments.
Oglaza said the lack of ability for tests will, in part, be alleviated by a recent decision to provide take-home PCR tests to various primary care providers. This program begins Tuesday.
As for restrictive actions taken by the local health unit, Oglaza implemented a new Section 22 order Monday, which limits private gatherings to five people in the city of Kingston and adds extra limits on restaurants.
The order will be short-lived, with the restrictions lifted on Dec. 20, at noon.
Oglaza said the order is actually just a stop-gap for further restrictions that are coming down the pipe locally in the form of a letter of instruction, which has yet to be released.
“By implementing these very stringent measures very early or as early as possible and and for a limited time at this, this enables us to get a better sense of the impact of Omicron in this in this community,” he said.
Oglaza was not clear about what these restrictions will be, but said they will be stopping short of lockdowns and will be focusing more on distancing and capacity requirements.
In the end, both Oglaza and Evans urged locals who can get vaccinated, especially those who are unvaccinated or eligible for their booster shots, to do so.
Despite multiple requests from Global News, the Ontario Ministry of Health has yet to address the dramatic rise of COVID-19 in the Kingston region.