Kingston, Ont., area now has highest rate of COVID-19 cases in Canada
Region's top doctor calls new numbers 'the true impact of the Omicron variant'
The Kingston, Ont., region now has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the entire country, with the vast majority likely driven by the exceedingly contagious Omicron variant, the local health unit says.
Dr. Piotr Oglaza, medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health (KFLAPH), confirmed the record-setting numbers at a Thursday afternoon news conference.
As of Dec. 16, the health unit was reporting a rolling seven-day average of 471.4 cases per 100,000 residents — far surpassing the next highest, the Chaudière-Appalaches region in Quebec, where that number sits in the mid-200s.
Not only are the Kingston region's numbers currently the highest in Canada, Oglaza said, but they also exceed any other case rate in the country since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in early 2020.
"Unfortunately, when we look at how we compare … we are the highest in the country, and [we have] the highest-ever case rate reported by any public health unit over the course of this pandemic," Oglaza said.
"This is really the true impact of the Omicron variant."
More than 500 suspected Omicron cases
The health unit confirmed its first Omicron-related case on Dec. 8 in someone who had no history of international travel and who had first shown symptoms in late November.
Oglaza said Thursday the health unit had confirmed six total Omicron cases, but the suspected number of cases is likely more than 500 — suggesting the highly transmissible variant had swiftly overtaken Delta locally as the main driver of the pandemic.
The health unit also reported 198 more COVID-19 cases on Thursday, only one fewer than Ottawa, which has a population roughly five times as large.
As of Thursday, the region had 25 people in hospital with COVID-19, which includes 14 in an intensive care unit (ICU) and 11 on ventilators.
So far, none of the hospitalized cases have been tied to Omicron, Oglaza said.
WATCH | Kingston reports highest COVID-19 case rate of any public health unit in Canada
New rules Sunday
The bleak outlook comes one day after the health unit introduced tough new restrictions around capacity limits, masking and physical distancing.
The rules go into effect Sunday at one minute past midnight.
Fears about the Omicron variant have spurred the provincial government to accelerate its COVID-19 booster shot rollout, with everyone 18 and older eligible to get their third vaccine dose starting Monday.
Ontario's COVID-19 science table, meanwhile, has called for stringent "circuit breaker" restrictions that would reduce social contacts by 50 per cent, hopefully enough to stave off a surge of patients from flooding the province's ICUs.
Oglaza said the Kingston region — held up as a success story earlier in the pandemic — was now the victim of an "unfortunate set of circumstances" that included an early Omicron case and high spread among the 18-to-39 demographic.
It is likely, he said, other regions in Ontario will experience similar trajectories in the coming days and weeks as the variant gradually gains a foothold.
Oglaza stopped short of calling for an outright lockdown similar to what Ontario went through earlier this year.
"It's really a balancing act between how much spread we can tolerate and can mitigate, versus how much harm we get from the additional measures," he said.
"I would have to see that that balance of unintended severe harms is outweighed by benefits. And at this point, I have not seen that very convincingly."