The province, along with the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), are launching a campaign aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in B.C. ski towns. This winter some mountain communities, such as Whistler and Big White, have seen significant clusters of the virus, prompting the government to take extra measures.
The campaign includes provincewide television and digital advertising, enhanced communication to employees and education for eliminating social gatherings in shared housing and short-term accommodation, employers assisting with contact tracing, and reinforcing quarantine and self-isolation accommodation information and protocols for people working and living in ski communities.
“I think within the communities there is an opportunity to do a better job in terms of communicating both rules messages around no gathering or partying right now,” said CWSAA chief executive officer Christopher Nicolson.
Since the start of the pandemic, Whistler, Sun Peaks, Rossland, Revelstoke, Invermere and Fernie have had working groups focused on preventing COVID-19 transmission that include ski operators, municipalities, community destination marketing organizations, chambers of commerce and local health authorities.
The six communities are working in close coordination with the province on this campaign.
Nicolson noted that employees in ski towns have a vested interest in following the rules as health, theirs and their communities’, is at stake.
In addition to targeted ads, there will be coordinated efforts among community stakeholders to get the message out.
“In terms of the campaign side, it is direct engagement with the grassroots level,” said Nicolson.”It’s about getting that information through to the communities.”
Nicolson added that increased enforcement to ensure compliance is likely.
A WorkSafeBC inspection blitz at Whistler businesses on Jan. 30 and 31 revealed widespread violations of COVID-19 regulations.
Thirty-five of 62 workplaces that were visited were written up for offences such as not having proper sanitary equipment available, not adhering to occupancy limits and not having a COVID-19 safety plan altogether.
“I think you will continue to see that [enforcement] within the province,” said Nicolson.
The province and municipalities are calling on those who are renting nightly to follow provincial guidelines and not rent their homes to parties made up of people from multiple families.
Nicolson said municipalities and police will work together to enforce current restrictions.
“There are Health Authority rules in place in the province,” he said.
In addition to social gatherings, many pointed to crowded living conditions in mountain towns as one of the possible culprits in the spread of the virus which is being addressed through a program with the Interior Health Authority.
Last week, Sun Peaks Independent News reported that The Interior Health Authority (IHA) has an arrangement with ski resorts in its jurisdiction, including Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM), to plan for the self-isolation needs of local community members.
“There are different solutions to that in each community,” said Nicolson of the program. “The importance of that is perhaps self-evident, but very important.”
In a statement, B.C. tourism minister Melanie Mark said it’s imperative for all stakeholders to get on board and follow COVID-19 protocol in order to avert any premature shutdown of ski resorts as B.C. saw last March.
“I want to personally thank the ski industry and communities who have been working non-stop to save this ski season, and I know most people are doing the right thing to avoid spreading COVID-19,” stated Mark. “However, those who are mixing households, throwing parties and ignoring the rules are putting jobs, our economy and our health at risk. Now is the time for each of us to step up and do our part so we can continue to enjoy all that ski communities have to offer.”
Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News Inc.