Public Health urges continued vigilance as COVID-19 cases rise

Kingstonist file photo

Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington Public Health is asking Kingstonians to remain alert to the continued risk of contracting COVID-19.

“With the Monday [Nov. 9, 2020] numbers coming in with six cases from over the weekend, that is quite a spike for us. I know it isn’t in comparison to other regions, but nonetheless, it brings some uncertainty,” said Dr. Mark Mckelvie, Resident doctor for KFL&A Public Health.

“When we see changes like this, even at our smaller numbers, we take them very seriously.”

Public Health reported a further 19 cases by Friday, Nov. 13, 2020 — 25 cases in total for the week — with the seven day rolling average for positivity rate at 0.50 per cent at the time of publication. There are currently 19 active cases of COVID-19 in the region. Historically, our highest number of active cases in the KFL&A area have been 40 on Tuesday, March 31, and 39 on Saturday, July 4, 2020.

Dr. Mckelvie said he and his colleagues are growing uneasy, perceiving that people in the area may be getting too “comfortable,” and desensitized to the risks of the virus. This is a significant vulnerability with having lower cases in the community.

“We think that we’re immune, but if there is lots of exposure around us, there’s the potential for it to come in here,” he said.

Mckelvie said it was too soon to say whether Halloween activities played a role in the rising case numbers, but also said that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Testing, staying local, remaining essential

Mckelvie said that currently, Public Health does not have evidence of community spread, with exposure continuing to present from outside the region.

“That’s why our message has always been to reduce your exposure. So the way you do that, the biggest way you do that is to stay local, support local, and avoid all non-essential travel. We can guarantee you that if you go to Ottawa or you go to the GTA, you’re going to have exposure,” he added.

Mckelvie said it is also essential for people who have symptoms to continue going for testing. “This is going to be the same now, and it will be the same tomorrow, and it was the same yesterday. Get tested if you have symptoms, isolate yourself,” he said.

Kingston experienced a peak in testing in September, after elementary, secondary and post-secondary students returned to school. Now he said, the community seems to have settled into a consistent baseline. The KFL&A Public Health dashboard suggests that testing hovers around an average of 500 tests per day.

Public Health is also reminding people to remain vigilant in the workplace, and remember that even the colleagues they see every day present the potential risk of exposure.

“We want [people] to feel comfortable at work, but we want to ensure that they’re masking and using physical distancing at work, too, because we’ve seen – in our area but also across the province – that it’s more so your coworkers that you’re vulnerable to than your clients in a lot of these service settings.”

Mckelvie said Public Health will continue to push its key messages through the pandemic. “I’ve already said, and I know we keep saying it, but it’s so important: staying local, supporting local, hand hygiene, masking, physical distancing, and staying home if you’re sick. Seriously consider COVID-19 screening questions, because they’re there for a reason,” he said.

Enforcement continues

Besides imploring people to follow the rules, local authorities are continuing to use enforcement where necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19. Mckelvie said he has been involved in cases where Public Health has had to pursue punitive actions or sanctions of people that have failed to follow isolation, but nothing recently.

According to the Kingston Police, within the last week they have issued three Administrative Monetary Penalties — one for a nuisance party bylaw infraction, and two for failure to comply. According to Sgt. Steve Koopman of Kingston Police, City of Kingston Bylaw officers are reportedly issuing 11 Reopening Ontario Act (ROA) summonses, potentially including two $10,000 fines for organizing social gatherings or events at three address in the Queen’s University District.

The City of Kingston’s Bylaw Enforcement team could not comment on any pending charges as the investigation is still underway. Eleven individuals were spoken to regarding violations under the Reopening Ontario Act, but no charges have been issued at this time.

Clarifying outbreaks

Many of those who view the KFL&A Public Health Dashboard often will have noticed that outbreaks remain active, even after the case or cases involved have been resolved. Mckelvie explained why that is.

“We stop declaring outbreaks after 14 days, assuming that we have the one case and there’s no secondary cases, and the reason is we have the incubation period – Presuming that one case was exposed to other people at some point. And so we take from the end of exposure to the end of the incubation period – so the time when people might develop the disease,” he said.

Graphic supplied by KFL&A Public Health.

“So even if we do initial testing around one person and everyone is negative, that’s a snapshot of a point in time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no secondary transmission, it just means at that point we’re not aware of any secondary transmission. [When] we can comfortably say that there has been no secondary transmission, that’s when we would stop the outbreak,” Mckelvie concluded.

As of Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, KFL&A Public Health has declared three active outbreaks in the region: One at Trillium Retirement and Care Community, one at Our Lady of Loudes Catholic Elementary School, and one at the McDonald’s location at 285 Princess Street downtown.

For more detailed data on COVID-19 cases in the region, follow Kingstonist’s COVID-19 Quick Reference Guide, which is updated Monday through Friday, as well as on weekends if more information from Public Health is released.

With files from Samantha Butler and Tori Stafford

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