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Ontario Premier Doug Ford, seen here on June 26, 2020 with Minister of Health Christine Elliott, said the outbreak is concerning, but it does not give him second thoughts about further lifting the lockdown on many businesses in the province this week, including hair and nail salons in Toronto.

Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

Hundreds of people lined up to be tested for COVID-19 in Kingston on Friday after an outbreak at a local nail salon showed how quickly the virus can spread just as the province reopens its economy.

In a region that was lauded for its measures that kept the virus at bay during the early days of the pandemic, the outbreak has sickened 16 individuals so far, while hundreds of others could also test positive.

Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston and surrounding communities, is asking the 500 customers who visited Binh’s Nail & Spa since it reopened two weeks ago to quarantine themselves for 14 days and watch for any symptoms of the coronavirus. Public health declared an outbreak at the salon on Thursday and closed it until further notice.

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The people who have tested positive include six employees of Binh’s Nail, health care workers, and correctional officers who were customers at the salon or close contacts of customers, Dr. Moore said on Friday. He expects additional cases as more people get tested.

“We are not out of the woods yet, but we caught this early and we think we can limit the spread,” he told reporters.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the outbreak is concerning, but it does not give him second thoughts about further lifting the lockdown on many businesses in the province this week, including hair and nail salons in Toronto.

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“The system is working,” Mr. Ford said, noting that public-health officials in Kingston quickly tracked down the salon’s customers. “But it goes back to what we keep saying, you know, we have to always make sure that we wear a face mask, we constantly wash our hands and when possible, make sure in groups we really stick to 10 people – the social circle.”

Dr. Moore issued a public-health order on Friday making face masks mandatory in all indoor public places in the Kingston region, including grocery stores, restaurants, hair and nail salons, and on public transit. Businesses can be fined up to $5,000 a day for violating the order.

Unlike many other communities in Ontario, Kingston was largely unscathed by the virus, thanks to protective measures local health officials adopted early on. Those include protecting vulnerable populations by redeploying restaurant inspectors to seniors’ homes and correctional institutions to determine whether safeguards were in place, and encouraging primary care physicians to test patients. The region has had no deaths from COVID-19.

The move on Friday to make masks mandatory is a necessary precaution to allow the economy to remain open safely, Dr. Moore said. “It is our concern that people have gone back to their old way of doing business.”

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At Binh’s nail salon, staff wore face masks after reopening on June 12, but many customers did not, he said. As well, he added, the salon was not properly cleaning equipment.

At this stage of the investigation, it is not known how the virus got into the salon, Dr. Moore said. Posts on social media blamed a group of women who travelled by bus from Toronto to Kingston for manicures and pedicures before salons in their own city had reopened. Dr. Moore acknowledged that he fielded calls on Friday from his colleagues at Toronto Public Health about the social-media posts.

“We have confirmed that there has been no direct link through our investigation to Toronto and no evidence to date of significant use of this clinic to Toronto,” he said.

With a report from Laura Stone

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