As Ontario prepares for a surge in Omicron cases, the Kingston area is already struggling to contain the new variant of concern that has swept the city, forcing the region to enact new public health restrictions now in place. among the toughest in the province.
On Monday, Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health restricted meetings to just five people for the next week to slow the spread of COVID as hospitals in the region, which now serve the largest number of COVID patients in Ontario , they warned about limited capacity.
Omicron cases in the region, which are among the lowest case counts in the first three waves and a high proportion of its vaccinated population, are skyrocketing in young adults, increasing the already high infection rates of a fourth wave powered by Delta that came last month.
Experts say the Kingston area is about three days ahead of Ontario in its Omicron surge, providing potential insight into next week.
“The slope increases dramatically and gets steeper with the emergence of these Omicron cases,” Dr. Gerald Evans, Queen’s University chair of infectious diseases, told the Star.
“If we are the leading region in the province as far as Omicron is concerned, we are only three days ahead of where the rest of the province is heading.”
KFL & A Public Health on Monday had an infection rate of about 400 cases per million residents per day. That compares to Toronto’s roughly 60 cases per million residents per day, according to Ontario’s COVID-19. Scientific advisory table.
On Sunday, Of the Queen announced that in-person exams were being halted due to the increase in cases among students, becoming what is believed to be the first in the province to take this step. Students are also racing to get COVID tests before returning home for winter break, and high-risk close contacts are being told to isolate themselves in Kingston, changing travel plans.
During a news conference Monday, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Health Officer, KFL & A Public Health, said the significant increase in Omicron cases triggered the new strict measures on meeting sizes and social settings, which entered in effect the same night and continues until 11:59 am on December 20. The class order of section 22 restricts Indoor and outdoor social gatherings and public events organized for five, and places limitations on bars and restaurants, including preventing the sale of alcohol after 9 p.m.
The measures address the “compelling need to break the chain of infection in the highest-risk settings that we have seen implicated in the spread of Omicron,” Oglaza said.
The announcement follows other recent measures to slow the virus, including a move on Friday to require all close contacts of confirmed cases to be tested and isolated for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
On Monday, to ease tension at local COVID testing sites, the health unit said. take-home PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test kits it will be available at participating family health teams. Oglaza told reporters that he believed the health unit was the first in Ontario to provide the selfie kits in such a way as to increase access to testing.
The speed of spread in a community, even with full vaccination (Ontario universities have a mandatory vaccination policy) is evident at Queen’s weekly case tracker. Last week, Dec. 6-12, there were 282 cases among students, compared to 23 in each of the previous two weeks.
Zaid Kasim, President of the Alma Mater Society, Queen’s undergraduate student union, called canceling the in-person exams “good news, but it’s too late.”
“Students have been begging and pleading with the university to cancel exams (in person) for weeks,” said the civil engineering student. He said people were “anxious” because the in-person exams were being held in large gymnasiums with students “crammed like sardines” as the number of cases increased.
The university has said that whenever possible, the exams will be switched to an “alternate delivery format,” which may include an online exam, an exam that is delivered after a few days, or replacing exams by labs. Some teachers can cancel exams entirely, others can reschedule them in 2022.
in a statement on monday, the university said it “strongly encourages all students to get tested for COVID-19” before leaving for winter break.
Asymptomatic students who are not a high-risk contact should undergo rapid antigen testing; On Monday, Queen’s began offering free trials. If a student tests positive, they must isolate them for 10 days and confirm the results with a PCR test.
Those who are symptomatic, or a high-risk contact, should get a PCR test (students can take a PCR swab test or make an appointment) and isolate themselves while waiting for results. If it is positive, you must isolate it for 10 days.
The university says students planning to leave for winter break are encouraged to leave “as soon as possible” as long as they have tested negative and are not high-risk contacts. Those already at home should get a PCR test and isolate pending results.
Isolating for 10 days means some students can spend Christmas in Kingston. Queen’s says support will continue to be available and residences open for those unable to go home.
“There are many, many students who are getting their positive results (tests) today and will continue to do so for the next week … They will no longer be able to go see their families,” Kasim said.
“They will have to stay at their home in Kingston for the holidays … A lot of this could have been avoided if we made a call to cancel the exams in person a little earlier.”
The university’s decision followed protests by students, including a online petition started by Abby McLean on December 9, with in-person exams already underway. It obtained more than 6,000 signatures.
McLean noted that students waited days to take the test because the off-campus testing center was “packed” and the test halls were packed with “hundreds” of students at a time when there were “multiple outbreaks in the student community.” .
“Having in-person exams put thousands of students at risk and likely means that many students will not be able to see family members who are particularly vulnerable to COVID during the holidays,” McLean wrote in the petition.
On the day the petition was released, the university announced additional measures such as COVID testing on campus starting December 10, moving the remaining fall in-person classes to remote learning, and improved precautions for in-person exams. By Sunday, he canceled the exams in person.
Sydney Ko, a fourth-year student, said the news was greeted with “a huge sigh of relief.”
“It’s a mix of ‘Thank God we’re not going to an in-person test’ and ‘At least we can stop COVID from spreading further,’ said Ko, also a senior news editor at The Queen’s Journal, the student newspaper.
He said the students were surprised by the number of cases because “they all have a double void,” which may have led some people to let their guard down.
Ko, herself having no face-to-face exams scheduled, said that she and her friends are in the middle of an exam before returning home for the holidays.
The Kingston Health Sciences Center transferred two critically ill patients to other hospitals over the weekend and may need to consider reducing services to cope with a surge in COVID patients. Currently, hospitalized COVID patients in the region are infected with the Delta strain, Evans, a KHSC infectious disease physician, said at the news conference.