Kingston area going back to early autumn COVID-19 rules in latest bid to turn tide

The City of Kingston and the local public health unit are further tightening COVID-19 restrictions as the region struggles to turn around skyrocketing infection rates turbocharged by the Omicron variant.

Capacity, masking and distancing changes start Sunday, could last a month

The City of Kingston has closed many city facilities to in-person appointments until at least the new year as the region rolls back COVID-19 rules to where they were before October's changes. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The City of Kingston, Ont., and the local public health unit are further tightening COVID-19 restrictions as the region struggles to turn around skyrocketing infection rates turbocharged by the Omicron variant.

As of 12:01 a.m. Sunday, capacity, masking and distancing rules are being rolled back to where they were before provincewide rule changes in October under proof-of-vaccination rules.

Concerts venues, sports facilities, museums, galleries, zoos, historic sites, festivals and meeting spaces, among others, generally have their capacity capped at 50 per cent for indoor settings and 75 per cent outdoors. There may be specific attendance limits for very large events.

Bars, restaurants, hair salons and other personal care businesses have to set a capacity limit that allows for two metres of distancing between groups. Personal care businesses will be appointment-only.

People have to wear masks both while playing sports at public facilities, and while attending public events, regardless if they're indoors or outdoors. Contact sports are banned, though practices are allowed with restrictions.

There is no firm end date, but Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, said in a letter Wednesday evening he expects they will be in place for a month.

If provincial rules are lifted while these local rules are in effect, they won't apply to KFL&A.

A drone photo of Kingston, Ont., Dec. 14, 2021. Dr. Piotr Oglaza says no one sector of the region is responsible for the spread which is why blanket restrictions are needed. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

For weeks, the Kingston region has been blowing through its pandemic records. It has one of the highest per capita rates of infection in Ontario on record and has more confirmed cases since Nov. 1 than the rest of the pandemic combined.

Nearly 500 recent cases are confirmed or presumed to be the highly contagious Omicron variant, which Ozgala said took its local spike to new levels.

Oglaza wrote that widespread transmission this month needs widespread countermeasures that will hopefully avoid the "complete shutdowns" of the past.

These changes are in addition to previous local rule changes, including gathering and restaurant restrictions in the City of Kingston introduced on Monday.

Health officials there and in its two neighbouring health units are asking people to avoid in-person gatherings. The Belleville area is also dropping its private indoor gathering limit as of Friday and reiterating the importance of screening and masks in restaurants

City services scaling back through the holidays 

Also on Wednesday, the City of Kingston announced several closures to city facilities for walk-in service. However, in a news release it says city staff will remain available by appointment, Monday to Friday, to support residents.

Clients of provincial programs, like Ontario Works, at 362 Montreal St. are encouraged to contact their case manager before going into the office.

The following closures start Thursday:

  • 211 John Counter Blvd.
  • City Hall — though public restrooms accessible via the amphitheatre will remain open.
  • Grand Theatre — the box office will be available for cancellations. 
  • Memorial Centre and Centre 70.
  • The Rideaucrest long-term care home has been to closed to visitors until further notice, though essential caregivers, workers and support staff may continue to enter the facility.

The closures are in effect until at least Jan.4, the city said. 

It has also cancelled the planned New Year's Eve celebrations and delayed registration for winter 2022 recreational activities until the new year. 

The Artillery Park Aquatic Centre will stay open, but swim capacity will be reduced to 30 per cent. The INVISTA Centre sportsplex will also be open, but with reduced capacity limits. 

The office at Kingston Area Recycling Centre, which distributes blue and green bins, will be closed starting Friday. The centre will remain open for yard waste drop-offs between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, and until 4 p.m. on Saturdays. 

COVID-19 vaccination and testing facilities will remain open, as will outdoor recreation amenities.