Three American men on ski trips with three different B.C. heli-ski companies have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week, after returning home to the United States.
That's according to the owners of the three heli-ski companies, which operate hundreds of kilometres apart — in the Terrace, Prince George and Revelstoke areas.
According to the company owners, the three guests spent several days with staff and more than 45 international guests, before they flew home through airports in Terrace and Prince George. The third man travelled by private jet through the Kelowna airport.
Skiers flew through small B.C. airports before positive tests
Crescent Spur Heli-Skiing owner and operator Mark Aubry told CBC News he was alerted Sunday night that an American man, part of a heli-skiing tour March 14 to 17 in the mountains east of Prince George, had tested positive for COVID-19.
Aubry said he was concerned when he got the news, four days after the guest had gone home.
"Concerned ... for his health and the health of the guests ... and staff that had been there with him ... and how it might impact other people," said Aubry.
The man travelled through the Prince George Airport on an Air Canada flight to the Vancouver International Airport on March 17, Aubry said.
Men had contact with heli-ski staff, international guests
Aubry said 16 other international guests who spent time with the man have been alerted.
Meanwhile, he and about 10 staff are now in isolation at the company's ski lodge in Crescent Spur, east of Prince George.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, Aubry said the company and guests had kept in touch by email after everyone departed, to monitor health symptoms.
On March 21, the man alerted the group he was experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Several days later, he got a positive test result.
Ski guide has flu-like symptoms
Aubry says one of his staff members, a mountain guide, had already returned home to Jasper, Alta. He's experiencing flu like symptoms and is scheduled to be tested.
Even before the American man tested positive, Aubry says his company had cancelled a booking by skiers from Spain, cut short the last trip of the season, and shut down operations early.
He doesn't think anything more could have been done to prevent the infection.
"We rely on international travellers", he said. "So I think this is just a situation where we're caught up in world events."
2nd American skier tests positive
Meanwhile, a different heli-ski operation in northwestern B.C. has also been alerted that an American customer tested positive for COVID-19.
John Forrest, president of Northern Escape Heli-Skiing in the Terrace area, says the man stayed at the company's Yellow Cedar Lodge from March 13 to 16.
He had contact with staff and 28 other guests, and flew in and out of the Terrace airport, according to Forrest.
Forrest said he was alerted Saturday night that the man had tested positive.
Now, the heli-ski company is working with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, he says.
Staff and guests are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Forrest said he and his family are also self-isolating at home in Terrace.
"We are making this public admission out of a sense of responsibility to our community ... We are not immune to this virus and we are not too far away to be severely impacted," Forrest said in a written statement.
3rd man travelled by private jet
In the Revelstoke area, Eaglepass Heliski said one of its American guests also tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, days after returning home.
The guest had skied with the company March 9-12, and stayed in private accommodation, according to a written statement from Eaglepass.
The company says the man flew in and out of Kelowna on a private jet.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is now involved, and staff are social distancing and self monitoring, according to the company. Local people are being asked to stay away from the company's lodge and facilities.
All three heli-ski companies shut down their operations before they learned of the COVID-19 infections.