B.C. ski resort fires employees after dozens of COVID-19 cases linked to parties, shared housing

B.C. ski resort fires employees after dozens of COVID-19 cases linked to parties, shared housing

Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna, B.C., has fired some of its employees for breaking a social responsibility contract, after health officials announced that 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been linked to the resort. 

The contract includes clauses about reporting symptoms of illness to managers, as well as following public health orders around social gatherings, according to resort management. 

In a statement issued Wednesday, the company said all employees are expected to adhere to the provision in the contract and sign a health declaration at the beginning of their shift.

“Big White Ski Resort Ltd has a zero tolerance policy with any employees who are found to be in breach of these documents,” the statement reads. “To that end, we have had to let go some of our employees.”

It is unclear how many employees have been fired. 

Resort managers and health officials have linked the spread of the disease to social gatherings and many people living in the same household.

The majority of the infections are in people in their 20s and 30s who live in homes with large numbers of people, according to health officials.

“We are taking about large households — households that have 16 or even more people in them,” said medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema.

“Individuals are sharing bedrooms with two, three up to four people sleeping in the same bedroom and that is where we have seen the cases come from.”

RCMP increasing patrols at resort 

Kelowna RCMP is increasing patrols at Big White — located about 55 kilometres southeast of Kelowna in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley — to address community concerns over people not complying with provincial health orders.

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“The RCMP will be there to assist the community in containing that situation and maintaining public safety,” Supt. Kara Triance said in a statement.

“While we certainly can, and will enforce the provisions available to us under the COVID Related Measures Act, we continue to encourage everyone to voluntarily comply with the provincial health orders, so enforcement is not required.”

Under the provincial COVID-19 Related Measures Act, someone organizing a social gathering can face fines of $2,300. 

Someone refusing to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces or failing to comply with directions of an enforcement officer may face a fine of $230, according to the RCMP.

Skier Lloyd Kerr wears a mask and eats his lunch in the parking lot in order to keep distance from other skiers at Big White. (Nathan Peacock / CBC )

Resort management said it is working with health officials to find housing for workers affected by the COVID-19 cluster.

“The focus of our team and task force is to help all of those that require accommodation to isolate, to transition into this space as soon as possible, and to continue to operate the resort in a safe manner and in accordance to our COVID-19 safety plan,” Big White president Peter Plimmer said in a statement. 

The company said managers are meeting with staff to have them recommit to the resort’s social responsibility contract.

‘I will still be coming up to shred’

Despite the dozens of COVID-19 cases linked to the ski resort, health officials said it is safe for people to visit for skiing and other activities.

“It’s unfortunate that it has happened but as a patron of Big White I don’t feel at risk,” said Lloyd Kerr as he was taking a break from skiing on Wednesday. 

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“I bring my own lunch and hang out in the parking lot and wear my mask when I am over there by the lifts, so I will still be coming up to shred.”

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