KFLA Public Health preparing for COVID-19 surge when students return

Kingston’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore says the Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington Public Health Unit is preparing for the possibility of 100 local cases of COVID-19 per day come fall.

Despite Queen’s University announcing a move to online classes for the fall semester, Dr. Moore says KFL&A Public Health are still weighing the possibility that a large number of upper year students will return. 

“The information that has been shared with us,” he said, “is that 99.9 per cent of second, third and fourth year leases have been signed. Whether they come back to Kingston or not, I don’t know. Currently we’re certainly a low pandemic rate area. I would think they’ll want to come back for the social life.”

Moore said KFL&A Public Health have run projections based on approximately 10,000 students returning to the city with a 0.1 per cent carriage rate for COVID-19.  

“That’s not looking good in terms of the risk of transmission back to the community,” he said. “That would have a big impact on us. Hence the reason we’re preparing for the fall, preparing to be able to manage 100 cases a day.”

Moore made the comment during KFL&A Public Health’s monthly board meeting on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Attendees at the meeting heard that all nurses within the agency are being trained as contact managers with an estimated capacity of 100-150 cases per day, in an unlikely worst-case scenario.

Dr. Moore spoke alongside Dr. Azim Kasmani, Public Health & Preventive Medicine Resident Physician at Queen’s University. 

The two doctors explained that the gradual reopening of businesses as well as the onset of the seasonal flu will also be factors in a potential fall outbreak. 

“The burden of illness as a result of influenza is quite high on our communities,” Dr. Kasmani said. “We’re used to it, though, we design our health care systems around this, but we can do better.”

Dr. Moore said KFL&A Public Health is aiming for strong participation in annual flu vaccination and working that into a comprehensive strategy.

“We were lucky the first wave of COVID-19 started at the end of the [flu] season,” he said, at the end of March. “Now, it may coexist with the [flu] season.”

The other complicating factor, Dr. Moore said, is that other jurisdictions in Ontario have seen workplaces reopen and become sites of transmission. “We are aggressively working on that front, on preparing our workplaces,” he said. KFL&A hosted a three-hour webinar on best practices for businesses on May 26, 2020, he said, to address such topics as preparing offices and appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Dr. Kasmani said he hopes the habits people have adopted during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic will help safe-guard the community against seasonal flu.

“We’re seeing people much more aware of regular hand hygiene now,” he said. “Hand sanitizer flies off the shelf. But that is something we should be doing all the time. We should be staying home when we’re unwell, all the time. That is one of the paradigm shifts we’re hopeful for, that people recognise that even if you have mild symptoms of the flu, toughing it out is not a good strategy… for the health of our population.”

He also thinks as our culture becomes more accepting of wearing masks, “it will allow us more flexibility and have a greater health benefit for the community.”

Compared to other areas in Ontario, Kingston has fared well against the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of May 27, 2020, Kingston has seen 62 cases, five hospitalizations and no deaths. There are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in the area. 

“We get a lot of questions about why we’ve done so well,” Dr. Kasmani said. “We all agree – the input and the involvement of our community. Our community has taken this very seriously. It’s really the community putting in the work, taking things seriously, following the recommendations.”

He also said on-going preparedness and proactive planning have seen the region through.

“It is difficult to predict in May where we will be in September,” Dr. Kasmani said.

“We will have a second wave,” Dr. Moore said. “It’s up to us how big it’s going to be and how complicated it will be.”

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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