By Steve Hubrecht
A potential second wave of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is looming, with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry having announced new restrictions two weeks ago and with cases rising around British Columbia, and the timing is anything but ideal, coinciding as it does with the start of the Columbia Valley’s winter tourism season. But local officials are urging a calm and measured approach, suggesting people keep things in perspective, and pointing out that the valley managed to get through the summer tourism season with the pandemic, and expressing optimism it can be the same this winter.
“Certainly, I think we all need to pay close attention to the provincial health order. I believe that out of respect for everybody, we all need to wear a mask. If we can knuckle down and follow the rules, we can cut the curve or flatten it, and we will be able to still get to great ski season and winter recreation season,” said Invermere mayor Al Miller. “If we all do the right thing, we will get back to a place of enjoying all the recreation activities that make winter in the Columbia Valley great.”
Radium mayor Clara Reinhardt pointed to keeping things in perspective, saying, “we’ll work on the economy when will get through this. We need to focus, primarily, on one thing at a time, and right now, that’s making sure everybody is healthy and safe.”
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok also emphasized perspective, pointing out that although cases are rising in B.C., there were, when he spoke to the Pioneer on Friday, Nov. 27, comparatively few COVID-19 cases in the Columbia River-Revelstoke riding, saying that aside from a mini-outbreak in Revelstoke with 22 active cases, there were nine active cases in Golden, three in Kimberley, and none at all in Invermere and the Columbia Valley.
“I know people are nervous. Will it affect business? Will it affect the economy? I don’t know. The jury’s out on that one. But let’s not press the panic button. We’ve been through this before, in the spring and summer, and (for the second wave) we know way more about this (virus) than we did in the spring,” said Clovechok. “We need to continue to do the protocols that have kept us safe.”
In terms of the timing of the second wave, Miller concurred that although there is never a ‘good time’ for a pandemic, the timing of the first wave of COVID-19 in B.C. — which resulted in a lockdown in early spring, followed by easing of restrictions in late spring and early summer — happened to hit during the local tourism industry’s shoulder season (at least partially), and that this second wave, right at the start of winter, looms directly ahead of what is usually a busy time.
“Certainly, the timing (of the second wave) is not great. But this is a pandemic, and you really don’t get much say in when these things come. We are in unprecedented times. We are doing the best we can as individuals and as communities. The upper levels of government are doing the best they can to responsibly balance the health and safety of individuals with keeping an economy going, but they do what they have to do. That’s where the provincial order comes in,” said Miller.
Miller spoke to the travel advisory that came as part of the provincial health order, which recommended people not travel outside of their local health region, or into or out of B.C., except for essential reasons. “The travel, from what I understand, is what is enabling this virus to move. The more people spread around, the more chance the virus has to spread around. We all have to do our best to adhere to the recommendations, whether we’re from B.C., from Alberta, or from anywhere,” said Miller. “That said, I feel from what I saw this summer, a lot of our second homeowners who were here in the valley did the right thing as much as the local people. They tried to keep to themselves and keep their distance. As long they are staying put and following the protocols, I really don’t see it (second homeowners being in the valley) as being an issue.”
Miller outlined that although the winter tourism season is nowhere near as big as the summer tourism season, it still plays a critical role in the local economy, and expressed hope that valley businesses would have a good winter season as possible.
“The winter business (stemming from tourism) is extremely important in the Columbia Valley. Places like Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, Panorama Mountain Resort, and others, it’s important to the whole valley that they have a good winter. They are big employers. They keep people working, and they keep the Columbia Valley economy humming,” he said.
“We have quite a variance from our summer population to our winter population, and that makes it hard under the best of circumstances for retail companies to have the right staffing. And obviously, these are not the best of circumstances. There’s not going to be the same number of people here for winter recreation that there normally is, and that’s going to be tough on a lot of local businesses. So it’s important that whatever business can be done during the winter months is done. We need everybody to be working as much as possible. There’s never been a better time to get out on the local ski hills or get out to the many other winter activities we have here. It will be good for your mental health, good for you physically, good for local business, good for keeping people at work, and good for community spirit and well-being.”
Clovechok pointed out that the travel advisory is a just that — an advisory — and not part of the actual provincial order (which is enforceable by RCMP), and said it’s important that people remember “that just because your license plate is a different colour doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong,” alluding to Columbia Valley second homeowners who happen to be from Alberta (and have red licences plates instead of the blue ones associated with B.C.).
“In the summer months, there was travel going on, but there were no major spikes in COVID-19 in B.C, and almost no cases in the Columbia Valley. That’s because people were following protocols…I strongly suggest we continue to do what we did this summer, continue to take it seriously, and follow the rules that will keep us safe,” said Clovechok. “If you protect yourself individually, we’ll be okay collectively.”
Further on the winter tourism season topic, Clovechok pointed out that the personal health order was set until Monday, Dec. 7 and said, “let’s wait and see what happens. But let’s be vigilant until then.” He did note that as he understands it, most ski resorts in the area have extensive protocols in place in advance of their opening days, added that “being outside is a good place to be. Obviously, going to apres ski with 100 people at the bar is not going to be happening this year, but being on the hill is a good, healthy way to be socially distant.”
Clovechok commended the region’s local health care worker, extending them a thank you, and adding that “when you think about not wearing a mask, think about them because they are the ones dealing with this.”