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Ontario just days from COVID-19 case surge similar to Kingston, expert says

Indoor and outdoor gatherings in the city of Kingston, Ont., will be limited to five people as of 6 p.m. ET Monday as the omicron variant drives a surge of COVID-19 in the region, while a local expert says the province will soon see a similar increase in cases.

Local medical officer of health limits gatherings, indoor dining in city of Kingston

Rise in Kingston cases partly caused by earlier-than-expected arrival of omicron, expert says

6 months ago
Duration 1:00
Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen’s University, says cases of the omicron variant have led to significant transmission in the city, despite assumptions that the variant would arrive later than it did.

Health officials in Kingston, Ont., are issuing a stark message to the rest of the province as they further tighten gathering restrictions while dealing with the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in Ontario.

As of Friday, the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington public health unit reported a record number of cases that day and a weekly rate of 350.3 cases per 100,000 residents, which it says it suspects is mostly due to the spreading omicron variant.

Then from Friday through Sunday, the health unit recorded an additional 359 confirmed cases of the virus — 291 in Kingston — and, as of Monday, had 908 active known cases.

The health unit also reported 263 suspected cases of the omicron variant on Monday.

"By this time next week, there's no question omicron will be the dominant variant," said Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen's University.

Evans notes it took less than four weeks for omicron to surpass all other variants in South Africa, including delta.

About half of new cases are already suspected to be caused by omicron, he said. That has implications for the rest of the province, which will not be far behind experiencing the surge Kingston has seen.

"I think we're probably maybe about three days ahead of the province," he said.

He did say the surge in cases came as a surprise considering the city doesn't have an international airport, and the first confirmed case of omicron was someone who hadn't travelled or had any other risk factors. Omicron then spread rapidly from there.

Gatherings, indoor dining limited to 5

On Monday, the area's medical officer of health, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, issued an order limiting both indoor and outdoor gatherings in the city of Kingston, including public events, to a maximum of five people. The order also affects indoor dining at restaurants and bars.

The order comes into effect at 6 p.m. ET Monday and continues for the next seven days.

WATCH | COVID-19 cases surge in Kingston, Ont.:

Kingston, Ont., tightens COVID-19 restrictions as cases surge

6 months ago
Duration 1:50
Kingston, Ont., has introduced new gathering limits and restrictions for bars and restaurants as it tries to curb a surge of COVID-19 in the community.

"Cases are increasing at a concerning rate and it is clear we must take further action to protect our community," Oglaza wrote in a statement. "We have come so far, and as we provide increasing immunity to our community through immunization, we must all be vigilant and keep our community safe."

Indoor dining will also be restricted as restaurants and bars must close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except to allow takeout, the health unit wrote.

These businesses can only serve alcohol between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m., and only four people will be allowed at one table. Dancing, singing and live music are not allowed.

Restaurants will still be allowed to offer pickup and takeout at any point.

Any person or business that violates the order can face a fine up to $5,000 per day.

Oglaza also asked residents to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms, stay home when ill and reduce their contacts.

Hospital patient sent outside Kingston

The region currently has 35 patients in hospital with COVID-19 and 14 of them are in intensive care, which are mostly driven by the delta variant, not omicron, Evans said. He did say officials are waiting for genome sequencing on some patients to verify none are related to the newest variant.

Health officials say those in hospital include a mix of people who are unvaccinated, younger patients, and older patients who may be vaccinated, but are more susceptible to the illness because of underlying conditions.

Unlike the spring, when the Kingston Health Sciences Centre took in 142 COVID-19 patients from the Toronto area, it has started sending some of its own patients out of the city. Over the weekend, two patients were sent to hospitals in Belleville and Brockville, Ont.

Hospital staff are also stretched thin due to other seasonal demand, as well as the usual work running the hospital, assessment centres and vaccination clinics, according to officials.

To help relieve some of the pressure on assessment centres in the city, the health unit in and around Kingston will make take-home tests available through doctor's offices.

Oglaza also urged all university students to get a COVID-19 test before heading home for the holidays, and if they experience any symptoms, even mild ones like a runny nose, to self-isolate immediately.

With files from CBC Radio's All In A Day

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