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Posted: February 1, 2021

Kimberley Mayor provides COVID-19 update

By Don McCormick

Given what is happening in Fernie last week, and the potential for migration here, Kimberley Alpine Resort and the Northstar group (Kimberley’s primary accommodators) as well as Tourism Kimberley and myself met to discuss the situation.

Daniel (Kimberley Chamber of Commerce) was unavailable but is an important participant in the conversation. I also invited Interior Health, which attended as well. In addition, I connected with Mayor Ange Qualizza in Fernie and Mayor Al Miller in Invermere after the call. Also of note, the 14 Resort Municipality Initiative Mayors are meeting via Zoom on a fairly regular basis and sharing experiences.

Following is some insight, lessons shared and actions we are taking to stay on top of things.

IH Information:

You will see from the latest BCCDC map that there are two new confirmed cases in the Kimberley area. Unless there is at least a cluster, no information is provided beyond this weekly update. IH confirmed that the cases are isolating.

All testing continues to be for people displaying symptoms; it requires a medical health order from the Provincial Health Officer to broaden testing beyond the symptomatic which has not yet happened. If there is a spike in testing demand, plans are in place for testing at the Kimberley Health Centre.

Ski Resort Issues:

The outbreaks in the various ski resorts are generally centred on staff housing/staff accommodation. We are fortunate that we have no staff housing (never thought I would say that!). Also, the 250-300 workers at KAR are 90% locals with an average age north of 40. In Fernie by comparison, they have double or triple the employees and 80% are 20 somethings who travel to Fernie for winter jobs. These are fundamental differences that have an impact on our risk factors. There is no evidence (through contact tracing) of any guest-to-guest transmission.

For the ski resorts with outbreaks…the skiing is not the issue. It is après-ski that produces social gatherings. People are ignoring the physical distancing and other basic protocols. This would include resort staff gatherings, people shoulder-to-shoulder in restaurants, people with a positive test not isolating (‘because it is safe if you are outdoors’) among other reasons.

Thank you to our workers, our business community and everyone who is skiing for your respect and adherence to the basic safety protocols. You are keeping us safe! What communities are discovering is that once COVID takes hold, it is very difficult to stop infections from spreading.

Tourism Kimberley (TK) continues to follow direction from Destination BC. TK is getting calls from other provinces about travel here. They are told that although there is no order in place, non-essential travel is not recommended so please stay home.

Visitor Accommodation:

The front line for out-of-town risk are our accommodators. KAR and Northstar Group confirm no multi-unit bookings, and no groups currently booked or upcoming. The extensive safety protocols that they put in place in June continue to be effective as evidenced by our low numbers.

I believe that the biggest accommodation risk is short term rentals not following the rules, some of which continue to accept larger groups that are outside a family bubble.

I contacted Airbnb this week. They have several conformance gates in place for hosts and guests. They also have links to BC PHO directives and recommendations; Airbnb is banning guests for life and in fact have started legal action in some cases for non-conformance. They want to work with us. TK has drafted a strong letter reminding hosts of expected behavior and directives that Airbnb will distribute to all Airbnb hosts in this area. Hosts can expect enforcement of all PHO orders.

Travel:

We need to pay close attention to ALL types of travel that occur daily. We have more than 4,000 trips a day between here and Cranbrook, half of which are for work. We have hundreds of people living in Kimberley who work in the Elk Valley and other mining communities that travel back and forth. There is also extensive commerce happening throughout the region – construction, deliveries, retail and other activities that keep businesses alive and jobs in place.

Kimberley is so far managing the difficult balance between safety, jobs and activities that keep us sane.

Summary:

It is critical to stay focused on the basic protocols: physical distancing, masks in public places, hand sanitizing often and stay home if you are not feeling well. These are not difficult things to do, and our community has been awesome with compliance so far. THANK YOU! I know everyone is tired and we are all probably a bit less focused at the one-year mark…but we need to stay energized.

We are doing well as a community and will continue to do so if we just keep doing what we are doing.

Whenever you are out and about, please err on the side of caution.

– Don McCormick is Mayor of the City of Kimberley


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