COVID-19 adds new St. Patrick's Day concerns

Large gatherings are an increasing risk for community spread of virus. 

The physician heading up the Queen’s University response to COVID-19, Dr. David Walker, is cautioning that large crowds of celebrants could increase the risk of community spread if COVID-19 arrives with visiting revelers.

As if to compound the challenges, this year indications are St. Patrick’s Day celebrations will occur on the weekend and St. Patrick’s Day itself. With so many jurisdictions facing the spread of the virus, officials say people need to take it seriously.   

For up-to-date information, visit the Queen's Coronavirus COVID-19 Information website.

While the risk is still seen as low, and there are no cases in South Eastern Ontario, community spread is starting to appear in jurisdictions around the globe, including the US and Canada. There is a concern that with a large number of students coming from other jurisdictions, someone might bring the virus with them.

“One or more people in the crowd may have come from somewhere that has community spread and is in the early stage of illness,” says Dr. Walker. “If you come in contact with that person you may develop COVID-19, or be quarantined. It is also possible you could unknowingly spread the disease to vulnerable family members or others in the community.”

St. Patrick’s Day brings additional challenges. If someone is infected, drinks too much and is attended to by volunteers, first responders or is taken to hospital, they could spread the disease widely and dangerously. Even if they don’t spread the disease, those in contact such as paramedics and emergency staff, would be quarantined, impacting services available to others.

“If you’re sick, please don’t go, particularly if you have a fever or a cough. If your friend is sick, please don’t go. The most important thing for anyone feeling sick to do is stay home, self-isolate, and call the appropriate medical authority. If you have friends planning to come, please suggest to them that may not be a good idea. And to ease the strain on our health system, avoid going to the hospital,” says Dr. Walker.

The university has set up a website to provide the campus community with information on COVID-19, and it is updated as new information is made available.

Graphic from KFL&A Public Health advising students on St. Patrick's Day.
KFL&A Public Health has started a campaign to advise safe and responsible behaviour on St. Patrick's Day.

Queen’s community partners are also promoting a strong message of health and safety in advance of St. Patrick’s Day as well. In a statement, Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health, cautions that excessive alcohol consumption can have negative repercussions not just for individuals but for the community at large. As the virus continues to spread in Ontario, emergency room services are facing increased demand for testing and screening for COVID-19. This means that alcohol poisoning and injuries sustained from intoxicated behaviour put unnecessary strains on emergency departments. Read the full statement on the Queen’s website.

To ease the strain on emergency services, Queen’s will be operating the Campus Observation Room (COR). COR is a voluntary, confidential, non-judgmental place where students who have had too much to drink can come to sleep it off. COR will be open on Saturday March 14 at 8 am to Sunday March 15 at 7 am in Chez Lenny (across from the Leonard Dining Hall).  COR will also be open from 8 am on March 17 to 8 am on March 18 in Chez Lenny and at a secondary location in MacGillivray-Brown Hall gym.

Students should also remember that the University District Safety Initiative (UDSI) and the Nuisance Party bylaw will both be in effect on St. Patrick’s Day. Anyone charged for designated provincial offences under these policies will receive a summons to appear before a justice of the peace in Kingston.

In addition to KFL&A Public Health, Queen’s has also been working with other community partners, including the City of Kingston, Kingston Fire and Rescue, Frontenac Paramedics, and the Limestone District School Board to spread health and safety messages and reduce potential harm.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Queen's Gazette.