KINGSTON, ONT. -- Queen's University is urging all students to avoid parties and large gatherings during Ontario's shutdown and stay-at-home order, after health officials declared a COVID-19 outbreak in Kingston's University District.

The Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health declared the outbreak Thursday afternoon among young adults aged 18 to 29 years old, saying they account for the majority of active COVID-19 cases in the region.

Of the 95 active cases of COVID-19 in the Kingston region on Thursday afternoon, 70 involve residents in the 18 to 29 age group living in the University District.

The health unit says investigations have revealed transmission is occurring during close, unprotected contact between individuals in social settings (including large gatherings) where physical distancing is limited and face coverings are not being worn.

"We are facing a critical time in the fight against this virus. We are putting all measures in place, including stronger enforcement of the provincial shutdown and stay-at-home restrictions to limit the spread of this outbreak," said Dr. Kieran Moore, KFL&A's medical officer of health.

"Fines will be given if provincial restrictions are not adhered to—stay home, limit social interactions to those in your household, and avoid unnecessary trips outside your home."

The Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health reported 18 new cases of COVID-19 in the region on Thursday. There are 95 active cases of COVID-19 in the Kingston-region.

Pictures and videos on social media Thursday afternoon showed large crowds gathering along the waterfront. 

In a message on YouTube, Queen's University asked students to follow all COVID-19 guidelines during the current stay-at-home order.

"It's much worse now. I know you know want the restrictions to be over, but here in Ontario daily case rates will soon be the highest they've been since pandemic started," said Dr. Jane Philpott, Dean of Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen's University.

"We are in the worst of it. More and more young people are being hospitalized. The spread is continuing rapidly here in our community, especially among young people."

Kingston Health Sciences Centre said Thursday that COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU occupancy rates are on the rise. The ICU is at 100 per cent occupancy, including 17 patients with COVID-19 from across the Ontario Health East Region.

"To keep our community safe, to keep you safe, we all need to do our part to dramatically slow the spread now," said Philpott, who worked on the frontlines in hospitals during the first wave of the pandemic.

"We must be more vigilant than ever."

Speaking directly to students, Philpott urged them to "push through a few more difficult weeks" during the state-of-emergency.

"Please stay home; don't go to parties; don't go to gatherings. Connect to your friends and family online and hang in there."

The Ontario government issued a provincewide shutdown on April 3, limiting social gatherings to five people outdoors. Indoor gatherings are prohibited during the shutdown.

The health unit says failure to comply with the social gathering restrictions, including no indoor gatherings and no more than five individuals at an outdoor gathering, can result in a minimum fine of $880.

A 28-day, provincewide stay-at-home order began at 12 a.m. Thursday.

The health unit offers the following tips to limit the spread of COVID-19:

  • Stay at home.
  • Limit close contact to your household (the people you live with).
  • Limit trips outside your home to necessities such as: getting food or medication, going to medical appointments, or enjoying exercise or walking pets.
  • Avoid social gatherings, visiting others, or having others visit you and stay overnight. 
  • If you have any symptoms of illness—stay home, isolate, and get tested early.
  • If someone in your household is symptomatic, they need to get tested and everyone else in the household must isolate until a negative test result is back.
  • Stay two metres apart from people you do not live with, and wear a mask or face covering in indoor public spaces or any time physical distancing is not possible.
  • Stay local and avoid non-essential travel outside of the KFL&A region.