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Kingstonians hunker down during record-setting COVID-19 spread

As the Kingston, Ont., area sees case counts skyrocket, leading to some of the strictest restrictions in the province, residents say there is a palpable fear among the city.

Region continues to set new pandemic highs, now has more than 1,000 known active cases

Kingston is currently dealing with the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in Ontario. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

This story is part of CBC's new pop-up bureau in Kingston, Ont. If we should know about something happening in the area, send us an email.

As the Kingston, Ont., area sees case counts skyrocket, leading to some of the strictest restrictions in the province, residents say there is a palpable fear among the city.

Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health reported a new record of 1,018 known active cases on Tuesday and per capita infection rate is significantly higher than any other health unit in Ontario.

Gatherings are currently limited to five people. Restaurants are limited to four people per table and must close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. There is no singing, dancing or live music permitted. 

These restrictions started on Monday evening and are currently set to end on Dec. 20 at noon. 

Kingston has had several pandemic rules rolled back, including strict gathering and restaurant rules. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

Cancelling Christmas gatherings 'disappointing'

The wave of Christmas gathering cancellations has been "disappointing" for Kingston resident Lisa Davis, who hoped this year would be much better than last year's holiday season.

"We all thought we would be together with family," said Davis.

She admitted the stricter gathering limit was the "right thing to do," even if it means some families can't see each other. 

"We can also hope for next Christmas, I guess, or Easter, at least," she said.

University student Emily Le says many students feel scared and isolated as they try to figure out what the holiday season will look like in Kingston.

"I was planning to hang out with my friends after like the finals are done. I guess now we're just staying home so we can be safe," Le said. "I actually have friends that got tested positive for COVID, which is pretty bad." 

Businesses brace for the worst

Some downtown business owners say they're experiencing a two-pronged fear — the virus and bankruptcy. 

Bruce Clark, who owns The Toucan pub, says he actually thinks the new restrictions in Kingston should be stronger. He believes there needs to be another lockdown.

"We have to take a really hard line on it," said Clark about this major surge of COVID-19 cases.

"We don't think [the restrictions are] enough to have any effect on anything. ... They will affect our business, though."

Clark says his pub will likely stay open but he expects few customers. Kingstonians have "locked themselves down" out of fear due to the high case counts in the city, he said.

Bruce Clark, owner of the Toucan Pub in downtown Kingston, says he worries the restrictions won't be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Michelle Allan/CBC)

Melanie Archambault, who owns Symphony Spa and Yoga, says the sharp rise of cases in Kingston has made customers more wary than ever. 

She says that they're relying on gift card sales as decreased customer volume has hampered their ability to turn a profit. 

"For us, that's the future," Archambault said. "When you get gift certificate sales, it's like, 'okay, there'll be another day.'"

Experts say Kingston's experience could also signal what's to come in other areas of Ontario in the coming days or weeks due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

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