On Thursday, Mar. 4, 2021, Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, held a press conference to update the media on the latest happenings regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moore discussed a variety of topics with reporters, beginning with further explanation of the issuing of a Class Order of Section 22 of the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act the same day. The Order will be in effect from Saturday, Mar. 13, 2021 until end of day Sunday, Mar. 21, 2021 – a time Kingston normally sees a lot of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, particularly downtown and in the student district. It aims to proactively protect the community, keep schools and the local economy safe and open, and prevent an impact on local emergency medical services and hospital resources within the City of Kingston, Moore explained.
“We’re well aware of the history of St. Patrick’s Day in Kingston, and that it is a day and often a week of celebration. And absolutely last year, before we went and shut it down, there was significant social activity associated with St. Patrick’s Day. And it did put our community at risk,” he said.
“We don’t want to attract other people to Kingston… Really, we thought we should be proactive to protect our community by having a calmer and more intimate St. Patrick’s celebration.”
Moore shared that his parents are from Ireland, and he goes there annually.
“It breaks my Irish heart to have to do it. But I do think it’s prudent. And it will help protect our community at a vulnerable time. We know that variants of concern are circulating around us; we had our fifth case of variant of concern in the community [today]. And we don’t need additional cases circulating,” he said.
Moore then spoke to some of the stipulations of the Class Order, which carries fines of up to $5,000 for individuals, and $25,000 for corporations for every day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues. He said that, after conversations with Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely, he believes that the combination of police together with bylaw enforcement officers and our provincial enforcement officers from KFL&A Public Health, will enable a robust presence on St. Patrick’s Day. Street activity will be monitored for the duration of the Class Order.
“The bars will still be open, there’ll be reduced hours, and at [a limit of] tables of five. Our community’s been great and our businesses have been great at adhering to best practices within those environments. So, I trust them to run their businesses appropriately, but I thought we should decrease the hours a bit, and keep the noise down so that we don’t have to yell or be too loud and aerosolized if there was a risk for COVID-19,” Moore said, the latter part referring to increased droplet spread when people are speaking loudly or yelling over music.
When asked about all those struggling musicians who had already booked gigs in relation to St. Patrick’s Day, Moore responded with sympathy.
“Well, I feel very badly and sorry if they’ve been pre-booked. We did try to give adequate notice to all of our partners in the industry regarding this,” he said, noting that Public Health has tried to explain to venues that host live music that the issue is about the volume of sound, and that if patrons have to raise their voices and they’re drinking without a mask on, that can be an a aerosol-generating event. “We knew from outbreaks in multiple parts of Canada, secondary to bars, that that’s an issue and we didn’t want to see it happening during this vulnerable week. So I’m very sorry and saddened that we’re not permitting it.”
Moore said he hopes to see St. Patrick’s Day celebrations return in future years.
“We’ll get through this St. Patrick’s Day week, I hope calmly, quietly and celebrating the Irish heritage, and then get back to increasing the protection through boosting our immunization strategy, and further protecting our community,” he continued. “And you have to celebrate today, as well. We’ve reached 10,000 individuals with doses of vaccine. We have had a very aggressive week this week of trying to get vaccine in the arms.”
10 KFL&A pharmacies selected to pilot COVID-19 vaccination program
On the same day, the provincial government announced that three Ontario regions would pilot programs for COVID-19 vaccines at some pharmacies, beginning next week. Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington is one of those three regions, and Moore explained how the program would work, and why he feels the region was selected.
“I think we’ve always been seen as an early-adopter. And as a result of great partnerships with primary care, as well as our pharmacies, we were picked to work with our pharmacies. Traditionally, we have 35 pharmacies that immunize every year for influenza. So we were happy to be considered a pilot. It also brings a little equity back in that we weren’t given the same amount of vaccine as other areas of the province,” Moore said, noting that 10 pharmacies in the region will be participating in the pilot.
While Moore was unable to say which pharmacies, pending completion of contracts with the pharmacies involved, he did say that the pharmacies selected include some in Napanee, Amherstview, rural settings, and some parts of Kingston. He said he anticipates that the vaccines available at the pharmacies will be the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that although the targeted age group has yet to be defined, he believes it will be those aged 60+ that will benefit from the pilot.
“I’ve heard from the General (Hillier) today that each pharmacy should commit to providing at least 40 doses of vaccine a day at each site. So if you think of it, that would bring on additional capacity locally at 400 additional doses a day, which I think is remarkable,” he said.
The region is currently administering approximately 1,200 vaccines daily with plans to expand on that number in the near future, Moore said. Those who will be eligible to receive the vaccine through local pharmacies will be contacted and booked through the Ontario COVAX vaccination appointment booking program, which is set to go live publicly on Monday, Mar. 15, 2021.
Region detects fifth variant of concern case
Also during the press conference, Dr. Moore confirmed that the region has detected its fifth variant of concern case. The fourth case was detected just last week. He also confirmed that none of the cases connected to the outbreak at Tiny Hoppers childcare centre in Kingston’s west end have been detected as variants of concern yet — while they are still awaiting results from some of those cases’ variant of concern tests, Moore said that given how quickly those variants spread, it is highly unlikely a variant is involved in the outbreak.
According to Public Health, the fifth case of a variant of concern — a female in her 20s — tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2021. The case was picked up via close contact, not travel, according to Public Health, and the variant of concern was detected on Thursday, Mar. 4, 2021. It is unknown which of the variants of concern is involved in the case, as KFL&A Public Health awaits those results, which can take up to two weeks to process.