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UPDATE: COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub

UPDATE (Nov. 4, 2021):

The COVID-19 outbreak among clients of the Integrated Care Hub is now at 15 cases.

Original article:

The rising number of COVID-19 cases among clients of the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) has resulted in Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health declaring an outbreak at the location.

Trailers set up at the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) on Montreal Street in Kingston to house those clients who have tested positive for COVID-19, as City of Kingston workers erect fencing around the area. Photo by Penny Cadue.

The outbreak was officially declared on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, following a steady increase in confirmed cases over the course of the previous weekend, however, neither the City of Kingston, the ICH, HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS), nor Addictions and Mental Health Services (AMHS) KFLA would confirm the outbreak until after 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, when KFL&A Public Health did so.

The ICH serves some of the city’s most vulnerable populations in terms of homelessness, mental health services, and addictions services – including consumption treatment services, more commonly referred to as safe injection sites or safe consumption sites – and has been in constant high demand since opening last fall in its current location. The situation involving COVID-19 cases at the facility began on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, when someone who had received services at the ICH tested positive for COVID-19. Although that person was no longer at the ICH and out of the KFL&A region, by the end of Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, six additional cases had been detected among clients at the ICH. None of those cases involved members of staff at the ICH, or with the service providers at the ICH, which include HARS, AMHS-KFLA, and Street Health. This resulted in the City of Kingston providing two trailers for the affected clients to self-isolate in and, despite assertion from HARS that the trailers were equipped with heat and electricity, those in the trailers and those advocating for them maintained that was not always the case, and that both heat and hydro had been on and off as of Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. The clients also pointed to a lack of access to food, medical attention, and proper facilities – there is one portapotty on site for those using the trailers – as major issues at the offset of the ordeal.

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, KFL&A Public Health listed a new outbreak on the COVID-19 dashboard under the category “Other – Other Services” which, according to the dashboard, was officially declared on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021 (though not listed on the dashboard that day) and now involves 11 total cases, according to the local health unit. Those numbers are expected to be updated later today.

When asked for an update on the situation and whether or not it had officially been declared a COVID-19 outbreak, the City of Kingston – which had originally directed inquiries to the ICH management, who redirected inquiries to HARS – issued a joint statement with HARS on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, however, they would not confirm the outbreak as outlined above.

For their part, the City and HARS said in a joint statement that, “the staff and community partners who support the work of the ICH are supporting the people we serve to isolate in a safely monitored area, where they can receive practical support and access to primary care.”

“We have been working closely with the KFL&A Public Health IPAC team to ensure that we continue to meet or exceed Infection Control practices, and staff and the people we serve are receiving regular testing,” the statement reads, although there have been conflicting reports regarding COVID-19 testing taking place at the ICH from those working to advocate for the clients.

When asked to confirm if those in the trailer have access to electricity, the City responded through its joint statement with HARS that, “[an] electrician has just connected the generator so hydro is on,” at 4:25 p.m. on Tuesday. With regard to heat, the two parties said to see the above statement regarding the generator, meaning the trailers were just then getting heat, despite earlier assertions that heat was already provided.

In the statement, officials also asserted that those in the trailers are being provided three meals a day, as well as snacks.

According to the statement, two cases of COVID-19 were detected among ICH clients “late” on Monday night and were isolating in tents on Tuesday.

“We’ve requested additional trailers to accommodate these individuals,” the statement said.

While the City of Kingston does offer hotel rooms to those in need when necessary, with regard to any of the COVID-19 positive clients isolating in hotel rooms, the two parties asserted the “the motel isolation option is administered through AMHS so we cannot comment on this.” Kingstonist is following up with AMHS-KFLA on this matter.

Finally, when asked if the City expected the situation to be declared an outbreak on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 – a day after it was officially considered an outbreak, according to the Public Health dashboard – the two parties held that declaring an outbreak would be the responsibility of KFL&A Public Health. To be clear, when an outbreak is declared, local public health agencies will not comment on those outbreaks until the party in question (the organization, agency, retailer, corporation, etc.) has stated that there is an outbreak publicly. The only time KFL&A Public Health declares an outbreak on their own without the involved parties is if there is a chance of spread to the larger community, such as outbreaks at public places like a grocery store or a bus route.

Nonetheless, the City and HARS said, “the declaration and next steps would be handled by KFL&A Public Health, therefore they would be best to share their procedures.”

Of note, when KFL&A Public Health confirmed the outbreak today, they qualified doing so by saying, “since the ICH has made a public statement, we can confirm that the “other” [outbreak listed on the dashboard] is the ICH outbreak.”

A ‘dire’ situation

According to those in the trailers and those advocating for them, the mental and emotional state of those within the confines laid out around the trailers, which the clients are to remain in while self-isolating, is exceptionally fragile. When asked what morale was like among those currently in the trailer, Chrystal Wilson, a local housing and homelessness advocate, expressed that the situation is “dire.”

“It’s not good,” she said pensively, noting that she is currently only interacting with three of those in the trailers and that one of them has been kicked out of the trailers by the others staying there and is now living rough again in the November weather, despite being positive for COVID-19.

“It sounds extreme, I know,” she expressed, “but my fear is of an actually fatal scenario here.”

Stan, one of the affected clients whose last name is being withheld for privacy reasons, furthered Wilson’s account.

“The morale is bad and they’re turning everybody against everyone and, yes, they are making prison walls,” he said, referring to the high fencing he said is being erected around the trailers today.

Stan said that, two days ago, four people who tested positive for COVID-19 were allowed to leave the ICH and mingle with the general population, though this account has not been verified.

“They’re building a prison to keep us contained and there’s going to be security guards and only one entrance in and out… why did they allow for [people positive] for covid to… wander in the population for two days and now they’re locking it down?” he posed rhetorically before answering himself.

“They’re going to say [the spread] is because we were not secured in a prison.”

According to the City of Kingston, the following is a breakdown of how the ICH is run.

As described by City of Kingston Housing and Social Services:

  • 661 Montreal St. (the ICH building) is owned by BPE (Ben Pilon Enterprises) and the City has entered into a lease for use of the space
  • HARS has entered into a service agreement with the City to provide 24/7 low barrier services for clients and are responsible for the hiring of all staff and oversight of the services, including client care and support and statistical reporting to the City.
  • KCHC has co-located CTS (Consumption Treatment Services) programming on site and have entered into a sub-lease with the City to run their programming. They, too, are responsible for hiring and oversight of their services.

Kingstonist is continuing to monitor this situation and will provide updates as more information becomes available.

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