Update (Wednesday, May 5, 2021, 4:25 p.m.)
As of Wednesday, 44 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the outbreak at the Cataraqui Heights retirement home build in Kingston’s west end.
Seven of those cases are from out of region, according to KFL&A Public Health, and none of the workers who have tested positive so far during the outbreak have been from out of province. Public Health would not say whether or not any workers on the site were there from out of province, an assumption many are making due to the construction company, Pomerleau, having strong connections to Quebec as well as Ontario.
Multiple attempts for interviews or to get comment from Pomerleau on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 went unanswered as of time of publication.
Update (Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 2:25 p.m.)
The construction site at the corner of Princess Street and Midland Avenue in Kingston is now closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak involving variants of concern.
In a press conference with local media on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, Dr. Kieran Moore said there are currently 32 cases of COVID-19 connected with the outbreak at a local construction site. Six of those 32 cases are from outside of the KFL&A region, according to Public Health.
“There were workers from multiple jurisdictions across Ontario coming to this site. And as a result, we have declared an outbreak associated with that site. And that site, in partnership with the company, has closed for 14 days as we monitor their workers, and further test,” Moore said, confirming that the first positive test related to the outbreak came into Public Health on Sunday, May 2, 2021.
“Upon investigation, we found that that was a construction worker, [and] we asked about other contacts, and tested those close contacts, and they were positive,” Moore explained of how quickly one case multiplied into many. On Monday, May 3, 2021, Public Health was only reporting eight of the 32 cases that are now known to be connected to the outbreak.
“When we thought there could have been further exposure at the workplace, we asked all 110 workers associated with this construction site to get tested and we’re receiving the results today,” he continued, explaining that those 110 workers were all tested on Monday, May 3, 2021.
Moore went on to explain that the outbreak cases were now spreading into the families of those workers infected. Not all of the cases involved in the outbreak will be included in the COVID-19 data for KFL&A, however, Moore explained. Many of the those working at the site are coming from different regions in Ontario, including Ottawa, Toronto, and Leeds and Grenville.
“As a result of the increasing numbers, we’ve had ongoing conversations with the company, and they have agreed that it would be prudent to protect their workers and prevent further transmission to close their site, and to quarantine all workers that have tested negative to date,” Moore said, adding that the company has been very forthcoming and detailed in their logging of workers at the site.
Moore would not confirm that the site in question is the All Seniors Care Cataraqui Heights construction site at Midland Avenue and Princess Street, however, several sources, including those with Pomerleau Construction, have confirmed that the outbreak is at that site.
“I’m fairly certain we’ll have more positives throughout the week, we’re already actually starting to see secondary spread to family members,” said Moore, apologizing that this wasn’t such a good news story.
“The testing from this site has revealed that it is most likely to be the B.1.1.7 variant. So as you know, it spreads more quickly, and it is more virulent, and is a higher risk for hospitalization of individuals. So we’ll be monitoring these individuals closely. And we’ve warned our health system partners that we could have a rise in admissions over the next week to two weeks, we’ll do our best in partnership with the community to try to limit the spread of this virus at this time,” he said, stating that this is the single largest workplace outbreak our region has experienced during the pandemic, and that over 800 tradespeople from different companies have been on that site over the past several weeks.
“We’re actively investigating and ensuring that those workers weren’t exposed. I will say that we’ve had great corporate cooperation from the company, that they followed the safety precautions and had recommended masking, they have strict screening, they cohort their workers while on break, and while on the workplace. They support testing and time off when needed for their workers. And they have had regular inspections,” Moore said.
He noted that, as is the case with many workplace outbreaks, it is entirely possible that the spread of the virus occurred in social settings outside of work, or during breaks or meal times. He said that, at this time, workers should be eating lunch by themselves as they have to do so unmasked, and that some of the workers had reported small social events that could have led to the spread, as well.
“We’ve seen that occur multiple times throughout our community,” Moore said.
What does this mean for Kingston and the KFL&A region?
Dr. Moore, who usually tries to add some levity to press conferences regarding COVID-19, made no attempts to mask the seriousness of the situation.
“These next few weeks are going to be difficult!” he said frankly.
Continuing on the line of how transmission has occurred historically in the region, Moore emphasized the need for residents to adhere to the current stay-at-home orders.
“Anytime households get together or there are social events, this virus wants to spread. And this is a clear example that we’re still at a very dangerous time in our community as a result of this transmission,” he said.
“To see 26 new cases [today in the region] and 32 associated with this construction site, we’re anticipating that our risk in KFL&A will remain high for the next several weeks, that there will be ongoing community transmission, there’ll be a risk of transmission in family settings, and in multi-generational homes. And I’m quite concerned about this change in events in our community.”
Moore thanked those workers at the local assessment centres and laboratories for their work to fit in 110 swab tests on Monday with quick turnaround for results today. And while he said we should keep in mind that our infection rates are only a tenth of those in Toronto, and a fifth of those in Ottawa, that doesn’t mean we’re not at serious risk.
“If you develop any symptoms compatible with COVID, we advise you to get tested. The risk has never been so high in our community,” he said.
Moore said there is no indication of COVID-19 spread to other Pomerleau construction sites currently active in Kingston at this time.
At 5:38 p.m., Kingstonist received an emailed statement from Pomerleau. That statement is as follows:
“Our team was initially informed of the evolving situation on the weekend and immediately informed local and provincial health authorities as required, as well as rapidly informed the subcontractors, our employees, and the client. Our primary concern is the health and safety of our employees, partners, subtrades, clients, and communities.
“We followed the steps set out in our emergency response plan to the pandemic as well as the recommendations of the local Public Health Authority. These steps include voluntary testing for all employees and trade partners on site. All employees who have tested positive and are deemed close contacts of those individuals are in isolation. We are monitoring the situation very closely and are working collaboratively with the local Public Health Authority, our subcontractors, and the client for the health and safety of all employees and workers.”
Kingstonist will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates.
The construction site at the corner of Princess Street and Midland Avenue in Kingston’s west end will be seeing less activity than usual after a COVID-19 outbreak has affected those working at the site.
The outbreak began on Sunday, May 2, 2021, according to data from KFL&A Public Health. At the time of publication, Public Health data indicated there are eight active cases associated with the outbreak, however, sources close to the project say the number of cases involved is closer to 18, which has resulted in a shut down of the site.
The site, Cataraqui Heights, a future All Seniors Care residence, is under the direction of Pomerleau Construction out of their Ottawa office. Multiple employees from Pomerleau confirmed that they were aware of the outbreak, however, at time of press, the company was unable to find someone to provide comment. Those with the Carpenters’ Union Local 249 also confirmed knowledge of the outbreak, but refused to comment, redirecting The Kingstonist back to Pomerleau. Kingstonist has also reached out to All Seniors Care, but had not received response at time of publication.
Construction began on the project in April of 2019. While some sources indicate the construction site has been shut down by Public Health, KFL&A Public Health has not confirmed that is the case. Despite that, no work is currently taking place at the site, though it is unclear whose direction has resulted in the shutdown.
A press conference with KFL&A Public Health is scheduled for 1 p.m. today, when Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health is scheduled to discuss the rising COVID-19 cases in the region. Kingstonist will update this article as more information becomes available.