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COVID-19 risk has ‘never been so high’ in region after construction site outbreak

The building site for Cataraqui Heights retirement residence at the corner of Princess Street and Midland Avenue in Kingston. Photo by Kingstonist.

Approximately two-thirds of recent COVID-19 cases reported in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region are connected to the recent outbreak at the Cataraqui Heights construction site, according to the local Public Health Unit.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health explained the impact of the outbreak on the region during a press conference on Thursday, May 6, 2021. As of that date, 38 cases of COVID-19 are considered primary cases of the outbreak – those who contracted the virus through working there. Of those cases, eight are from outside the KFL&A region, and connected to the 38 cases are 22 secondary cases – those who contracted the virus through close contact with a primary case.

On the same date, 18 new cases were reported in the region in total, with known active cases in the region reaching 128. And while the percentage of positive cases among those tested in the region remains low at 1.4 per cent, case rate – the number of cases per 100,000 people – is “one of the highest we’ve ever had,” at 48.8, Moore said.

“So, I’m sorry to say that the risk in our community is high. And it’s not just in Kingston, it’s across all of KFL&A,” Moore said, noting that there are cases scattered throughout the region, including in small boroughs such as Hartington, Battersea, and Godfrey.

“The risk in our community has never been so high.”

Moore further explained what that risk looks like and means.

“The threat remains high, please stay within your household. The more social contacts you have, the higher your personal risk of getting COVID-19,” he continued, reminding the community that the main strain of COVID-19 in the region at present – and the one involved in the construction site outbreak – is the B.1.1.7 variant, which is 1.5 times as transmittable and two times as virulent as the base strain of COVID-19.

“As a result, [I’m] very concerned at present for the community. And we all have to be very observant over the next seven to 10 days of best practices in monitoring for symptoms of COVID. And getting tested if you develop any symptoms of COVID-19.”

Moore then explained how the spread from the construction site outbreak had grown as a web, stemming from primary cases of those from the worksite to their “close, personal contacts,” including family members, and those in the general community.

“And [I] absolutely expect the number of cases to develop under those contacts to increase over the next week or so,” Moore said. He later added that, “sadly, I do anticipate that we’ll have people hospitalized as a result of this, this event in our community, and our hospital partners are aware,” in reference to the variant’s rates of transmission on virulence.

While Kingstonist has not received response from Pomerleau, the construction company in charge of the Cataraqui Heights build, Moore expressed that the employer has been nothing but cooperative through the process since the outbreak. He also said that, while the closure of the construction site for four weeks beginning on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 was voluntary, KFL&A Public Health had already expressed to the company that they would shut the site down otherwise.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health speaks with the media over Zoom on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

Moore then spoke of the actions being taken to address the situation.

“We will have serial testing of those that have initially tested negative and will continue to monitor their symptoms going forward. And we will work with them and the Ministry of Labor when we have clarity on when they can resume an open workplace again,” he said. Moore noted that construction workers are among the essential workers who became eligible today to register for a vaccination appointment. KFL&A Public Health’s communication of this to area construction workers simply opened a week earlier than anticipated due to the outbreak, he said, noting that regional Public Health units have the authority to make such decisions.

“We also have implored [the employers] that if they’re bringing workers from outside, they have carefully to ensure that they get tested and have a testing strategy at the workplace, and to encourage immunisation of any workers coming into KFL&A,” Moore said. Currently, no workers who have tested positive and have been tied to this outbreak and worksite have been from out of province, he said. However, construction workers from out of province working on other construction sites have tested positive for COVID-19, he added, as an aside.

When asked why he believes this outbreak occurred, Moore expressed that those on site had been following proper face-masking protocols – which included being masked at all times when working on the site – and that he suspects transmission occurred during breaks, when workers take masks off to eat, drink, etc.

Lastly, Moore said he believes that neighbouring health unit regions, such as Leeds, Grenville and Lanark Public Health, directing all construction workers who have worked in Kingston to monitor symptoms and be tested is a good strategy.

“We communicated very early with our sister health units in Hastings [Prince Edward] and Leeds Grenville Lanark, and kept them appraised of the outbreak. And we do that on a regular basis, when there’s anything sudden and large that happens, because that could affect our region,” he said, noting that he regrets the outbreak situation in Kingston wasn’t caught sooner.

“We had a number of individuals that had been working on the worksite from Leeds, Grenville [and] Lanark, and we have had some that have tested positive,” he said.

“And that is the ripple effect that it spreads across regions, and then spreads back into families and their close personal contacts. That’s what has me the most concerned, that a young worker brings it back to his parents who may have an underlying illness and/or his grandparents.”

This is why vigilance regarding the current situation and pandemic in general are crucial as the region moves forward, Moore expressed.

“Hence the need for our community just to raise their awareness over the next several weeks, as we try to limit the spread of this,” he said.

“So, this will be a difficult, difficult several weeks for us as we try to get this under control. We’ve done it in the past. And past performance is the best predictor of future performance!” Moore continued. “So, I do think, together with the community and an ever increasing immunization coverage rate for our vulnerable members of our community, we will get through this. And together through adhering to best practices will, day by day, be able to decrease the risk in our community.”

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