On Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health announced a COVID-19 variant of concern had been detected within the population of the KFL&A region.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, variants of the virus have been detected around the world. Here in KFL&A, this case, announced on Saturday, is the second such case to be detected in the region, the first of which was a case of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the UK. In this case, however, the variant has yet to be determined, Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health told to the media on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.
Dr. Moore explained that the person who contracted the variant of concern tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. The person had travelled internationally under the protocols for international travel that were in place before the Government of Canada’s new measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and its variants took effect on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. EST. The new measures require those landing in Canada from international flights to quarantine in one of four government-approved hotels for three days, with all costs being covered by the traveller. The person with the variant of concern was required, under the former protocols along with some of the newer protocols, to test for COVID-19 prior to boarding their flight, and then again upon landing in Canada. The person tested negative before boarding the flight, but then tested positive in the second test.
Moore explained that the reason the person tested negative before and then positive after the flight could be a number of things. It is possible the person contracted the variant of the virus on the flight, depending on how long that flight was, Moore said, though the length of the flight in question was not disclosed. It is also possible that the person was in the pre-symptomatic phase having contracted the virus just recently, and was therefore not shedding the virus yet, meaning they’d contracted the virus in the other country. Or it’s possible that the first test prior to the flight was a false negative, Moore concluded.
“So all the more reason that we have to have multiple safeguards, multiple testing strategies. Not all countries can use CMV (Cytomegalovirus), PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, some might use an antigen test, which is less accurate. And so testing before, testing on arrival, and retesting is going to be our process going forward to best protect Canadians,” Moore said.
Moore championed the federal government’s recently introduced mandatory hotel stopovers as a smart step forward in the fight against COVID-19 and its variants.
“This is somewhat of a good news story, because this is part of the new federal quarantine process where you must test before you get on the plane, and once you arrive at the four international airports in Canada, and then you’re monitored by local public health,” Moore said, noting that the mandatory hotel stopover began this week.
“To me, this is a success in that this individual may have tested negative before they got on the plane, but tested positive here. All tests that are positive tests are now being sent for variants of concern [testing] in Ontario, which is brilliant. That gives us great situational awareness.”
Moore underlined that the person who contracted the COVID-19 variant of concern has been following quarantine guidelines completely. The person was travelling with a friend, who has not tested positive for COVID-19 or any of its variants, and was picked up in Toronto and driven to Kingston. The driver involved is the only other person the case has been in contact with, and both KFL&A Public Health and federal Quarantine Officers have been checking in on the individual to ensure they’re following best practices.
Moore also explained that the testing for variants of concern takes place within 48 hours of a positive COVID-19 test, explaining why there were two days between the individual testing positive for COVID-19, and it being determined that case was, in fact, a variant of concern. He said that KFL&A Public Health should find out which of the COVID-19 variants it is – B.1.1.7 (variant first found in UK), B.1.351 (variant first found in South Africa), or P.1 (variant first found in Brazil) – within three weeks. The person travelled to Southeast Asia, and Dr. Moore said that all three variants are circulating in Southeast Asia.
“If you were a betting person, you’d put your money on the B.1.1.7, because that’s a dominant strain in many areas of the world right now,” he said.
Moore mentioned that he was not aware of why this person in particular was travelling, but did mention that the KFL&A region has had five positive cases amongst travellers in the past week.
Answering the question many on the minds of many throughout the region, Dr. Moore said that there has been no spread of the COVID-19 variant from the initial case, and said there is no risk to our community.
While he couldn’t really expand more on the vaccination framework for KFL&A that is already available on the KFLA& Public Health website, Moore did confirm that he is confident deliveries of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccinations to the region will continue without interruption. He said he knows that the public is eager to find out when and how they will be able to access vaccines, but he cautioned there is no need to contact Public Health or primary healthcare physicians about the matter.
“We will ensure the public is made aware of any developments in terms of vaccination delivery as more details become available,” he said.
Moore also disclosed that the region has recently acquired the fridge/freezer unit necessary to store the Moderna vaccines, and that Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) is already equipped with the proper cold storage for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
Travellers to Kingston
Dr. Moore stressed that the new federal mandatory testing and hotel stopover protocols are not only a good thing for the country and province, but also for the Kingston region.
“It’s really been a revolution in improvement on how to protect our community against the entry of these variants and concern because prior to this, number one we didn’t even test for variance of concern. And people would take a bus to Kingston from an international airport and then get tested here. So now the process is much different,” he said.
“So to me, that’s a significant improvement that protects Kingstonian, those in KFL&A, and our entire communities against these variants, because we only had one case of the P.1 detected so far in Ontario and only a handful of the variant called B.1.351. Those are the two most worrisome because they have started to mutate so much so that they could not be protected against by a vaccine. We want to ensure that those don’t become a significant strains in our community,” he continued, noting that variants of concern generally have a higher infectivity rate – anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent more infectious.
“So we’ll monitor for that, and we’re preparing our response. If we get more variants of concern within KFL&A, we’re preparing how we will respond to it,” he said, adding that he would endorse lockdowns if COVID-19 variants began to spread within the community.
Overall, he encouraged those in KFL&A to continue to adhere to the best practices: Stay local, stay home as much as possible, and following hand cleaning and masking protocols when in public.
He also addressed some of the rumours of travellers coming to Kingston that have recently been spread on social media. Over the weekend ending Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, numerous people spoke of a large group of people from Toronto who were staying at a local hotel for a wedding. According to Moore, Public Health received a number of emails and phone calls about this.
“We had a worry that there was a wedding with hundreds of Torontonians in Kingston over the weekend. We did send, through partnership from the City of Kingston, a bylaws enforcement officer, and it was not true. There was no wedding and there was no mass gathering,” he said.
Moore mentioned that he is in regular contact with the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, and that they have adhered to his recommendations that travel to Kingston not be advertised outside of the green zone from Belleville to Brockville.
“So I think we all have to monitor this information. And we’ll verify if there’s any truth to it. But we haven’t received any intelligence that there has been any mass gatherings like this.”