Tensions rise as government officials say: ‘Stay home, not at your second home’

“Don’t let this COVID crisis bring out the worst of our sometimes failing human characteristics.”

Today (April 9) Emergency Management BC issued a release saying that roads are open but they should be used for essential reasons, which don’t include heading out for fun.

“This is not the time to travel to secondary homes or vacation properties in other communities. It’s not only important stay home and maintain physical distancing, but access to resources and health care may be more challenging in smaller communities if someone should become ill or if there’s a community outbreak. By staying home, British Columbians can take pressure off the already strained resources in these smaller areas,” the Provincial release said.

The release echoed comments Invermere mayor Al Miller made in a statement earlier in the week about COVID-19 and the need to stay home.

“One of the biggest contributors to spreading this disease is travel and congregating together. I have personally been on several radio and television stations in both B.C. and Alberta asking for the visitors and second home owners to please stay where they are,” he said. “We absolutely hate having to say this because we all know that the tourism and second home owners bring not only great economics to the Columbia Valley, but many also bring their volunteer spirit with them and help out in so many ways. And in many ways several of them have become very good friends and neighbours. The problem is our infrastructure will not handle a surge in the virus if the pandemic grows in our area.”

Some people have been displeased about being asked to stay away.

Joe Campbell, who lives in Calgary and normally spends around five months a year in Windermere, reached out to the Pioneer to say: “I was disappointed to learn that neither we nor our contributions to the economic welfare of Invermere are wanted this year for fear of spreading COVID-19 and overwhelming your medical system. I wish to point out that most of us Calgarians who walk on our hind legs have learned the art of social distancing, wearing masks and latex gloves and only leaving our residence to shop for groceries or medicine … If any of us suspect we are getting the virus, it is highly likely that we will return to our primary homes where we have access to more comfort and medical services.”

John Owen, of Calgary and Fairmont, is in the valley with his family and is “troubled” to hear that government officials are asking people to stay home. He would be inclined to go back to the big city if he got sick.

“If I became ill I would want to be cared for in Calgary where the care would be more specialized and appropriate,” he said in a letter to the Pioneer.

It’s an argument mayor Miller has grown used to hearing, but he’s not buying it.

“Many folks have told me if they get the virus they will simply hop in their car and drive quickly back to Alberta. But if you chat with the health care professionals, as we do, not all cases affect people the same. You can go from a symptom to ICU in a matter of a very short time in many cases. And that would be problematic for our small hospital. Health units across the world are saying ‘stay home.’ And we had better listen so that we can get through this as soon as possible,” he said.

Gord Forbes, who “reside(s) slightly more often in Alberta” and has a second home in B.C. encourages his neighbours on both sides of the border to be respectful.

“Don’t let this COVID crisis bring out the worst of our sometimes failing human characteristics,” he said in a letter to the Pioneer. “I read the commentary mayor Miller made urging particularly Albertans to refrain from unnecessary travel to the valley, and his rationale is irrefutable.”

Speaking of negative human characteristics, Owen has been noticing rising hostilities in the valley and wants them to come to an end.

“I have friends here who have had a number of altercations with ‘locals’ over this very issue. Leaders ‘begging’ those with second homes to stay away is only going to make these confrontations more likely,” he said. “This is an awful situation for everyone. Let’s not make it worse by pitting neighbour against neighbour.”

The Pioneer also received a message from another visitor worried about the “venom” being spewed between residents and part-timers.

As tensions rise, Provincial heath officer Bonnie Henry continues asking everyone to be calm, to be safe and to be kind.

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