Coronavirus: How will Kingston navigate Ontario's state of emergency

Starting Thursday, a state of emergency will fall over Ontario for the second time due to rising cases of COVID-19 across the province.

“Under this order, everyone must stay home and only go out for essential trips to pick up groceries, or go to medical appointments,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday, adding that walking pets or exercising is still permitted.

The announcement has sparked confusion about what is “essential” and how police and bylaw officers might enforce the province’s stay-at-home orders.

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Kingston police and Kingston city bylaw will be allowed to ticket people for not complying with the state of emergency, but both say they are still waiting for additional information from the province on how exactly enforcement would work. OPP East region said it, too, is still working out the details.

The City of Kingston did release a list of services and amenities that will be affected by the state of emergency, which begins at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Outdoor amenities like the Springer Market Square skating rink, playgrounds and public trails will remain open, as will the washrooms at city hall.

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The city says it is still waiting on confirmation from the province about off-leash dog parks, but for now, “the new limitations of groups of five outdoors and physical distancing would apply,” said Kyle Compeau, manager of licensing and enforcement.

The city will not be accepting in-person payments for Kingston Transit, parking and other fines, but marriage licences and Commissioner of Oaths will be available by appointment.

Kingston Transit tweeted Wednesday that its services would not be changing because of the state of emergency.

City council will continue to meet online and all city infrastructure projects are permitted to continue under the state of emergency.

The Kingston Area Recycling Centre will remain open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, but the administration office will be closed.

On Wednesday, the Limestone District School Board’s director of education, Krishna Burra, said the province’s state of emergency would most likely affect how classes will run.

Unlike in other hotspots, students in the Kingston region are scheduled to return to in-class learning on Jan. 25. But Burra said local school boards will not be sure of their return to school until Jan. 20, when the province reviews regional health data.

“This is different from other parts of the province such as the Greater Toronto Area and western Ontario that will see schools remain closed until Feb. 10,” he wrote.

Burra noted that schedules for those already enrolled in virtual school will not change.

He also said the province is planning to enhance school screening and perform targeted testing at schools.

“We do not have any further information on this but will share details once we have them,” Burra said.

Despite cases spiking in the GTA and Peel regions, according to a news release sent out Wednesday by KFL&A Public Health, “case rates have been relatively stable.”

As of Tuesday, there are 47 active cases in the Kingston region.

Dr. Kieran Moore, medical officer of health for the region, attributed the region’s success to “health restrictions, paired with the diligence and sacrifices of local residents during the holiday season.”

“However, we are not immune to outbreaks and we cannot become complacent,” he said.

On Tuesday, Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) delivered the first COVID-19 vaccines in the region to long-term care workers. Moore said the delivery of the 1,900 vaccines to the Kingston region is proof that “hope is around the corner.”

“We must ask for your patience as vaccines are prioritized to those who need them most, and to the regions with the highest rates of COVID-19,” he said.

According to Moore, Tuesday’s first shipment was part of the province’s first phase of a three-part rollout system — this phase will take place gradually in the southeast region, which includes both the Hastings and Prince Edward and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark catchment areas as well, throughout the winter. The region’s Phase 1 vaccines will be reserved for residents, health-care workers and essential caregivers in long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes.

Phase 2 is meant to begin in April, and will prioritize vaccinations for essential workers and older adults, beginning with those aged 70 and over.

Phase 3 will most likely start in the fall, Moore said, and will target the general public.

For now, on the eve of more restrictions, Moore is asking residents to stay strong and follow the province’s suggestions to simply stay home other than for essential trips.

“I ask you to respect current restrictions by avoiding close contact with anyone outside your household as this significantly reduces the risk of spreading illness to others,” Moore said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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