'April will be a very, very difficult month in Ontario'

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Kingston’s medical officer of health is imploring people to stay home to save lives as COVID-19 variants of concern take hold in local cases.

Twenty-one new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Kingston region on Tuesday. Those cases include a male in the 10 to 19 age range, eight women and seven men in their 20s, a woman in her 30s, a woman in her 40s and a man in his 50s whose cases are all still under investigation, and a woman and a man in their 20s who contracted the virus via close contact.

Nine new cases with markers for variants of concern were also identified Tuesday. To date, there have been 115 confirmed variant of concern cases in the region.

In a video conference call with local media on Tuesday, Dr. Kieran Moore, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health’s medical officer of health, said that 60 per cent of positive COVID-19 tests are coming back with markers for variants of concern.

“The pandemic has changed, and it’s changed utterly within a few months,” he said. “We went from zero variants to 60 per cent of our samples in a very short time frame, in a few weeks. It’s a big risk to our community.”

Molecular testing results have returned on some tests, showing about half of them as “likely” being the B.1.1.7 variant, first discovered in the U.K.

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The other half, still being investigated, could be either the P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil, or the B1.351 strain, first identified in South Africa.

“We have all three variants circulating in KFL&A at this time,” Moore said.

He said variant strains are 1.5 times as infectious and 1.5 times as deadly.

“I don’t know how well we’ve communicated that to the public,” he said.

“The pandemic has changed. April could be a very deadly month. We all have to regroup and best protect our loved ones, our family, and stay local and stay in the smallest social circle we can, hopefully five or less.”

Moore said that it is “disconcerting” to have the variants circulating in KF&LA. He urged people to “hunker down” and stay home, and follow public health measures.

“We all have to work together to try to reduce the risk of transmission of these variants. It’s very, very important, as some of them, the vaccines aren’t as effective against, and we certainly don’t want them getting into any of our high-risk settings, like the hospital, long-term care or corrections facilities or shelters.”

While Moore said the KFL&A region has things “relatively under control,” the picture is much bleaker in other parts of the province.

Medical officers of health in the Ottawa, Toronto and Peel regions — areas that are seeing increasing viral spread and hospitalizations — recently co-signed a letter to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health asking for travel restrictions and a stay-at-home order to stop the spread of cases and prevent the province’s health-care system from being overwhelmed.

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“What’s happening in Ottawa, Toronto, Peel is very disconcerting,” Moore said.

That effect is not unfelt locally, he pointed out — at least 10 individuals from outside the region are currently being treated in Kingston Health Sciences Centre’s intensive care unit on ventilators.

“The system is getting stretched to its max, and I understand that need,” he said.

“We weren’t initially included in that letter, but I understand where they are coming from. We need less travel, because every time the virus comes into our community it has to be brought in by travel. We need people to stay at home as much as they can.”

Moore said he “feels very deeply” for the medical community in those regions who are trying to cope with a “sheer volume of cases.” It’s a story that is becoming more common in communities across the province.

“The modelling is not promising,” he said. “April will be a very, very difficult month in Ontario. I know everyone is tired. I know everyone has fatigue of the public health measures that are being put in place, but we cannot let our guard down. April will be potentially one of the deadliest months on record if we don’t adhere to best practices, limit our social contacts, limit our travel, stay within our regions.”

Even travelling outside the Kingston region to neighbouring health units presents a much greater risk of infection, Moore said, pointing out that COVID-19 rates in Hastings-Prince Edward are three times higher, and two to three times higher in Leeds-Grenville. Rate are five to 10 times higher in Ottawa.

He urged families to stay local for the school break next week.

“The Ontario rate has gone up to 131 per 100,000 per week,” he said. “Ours is remaining one-fourth or one-fifth of that rate. Please stay local. Don’t travel. Stay within KFL&A. Enjoy our beautiful surroundings this April, but you have to stay in the smallest social circle you can if we’re going to be able to limit the effects of this third wave.”

mbalogh@postmedia.com

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