Big White Ski Resort is requesting the assistance of Kelowna RCMP to help enforce COVID-19 provincial health orders in the wake of community spread in the resort municipality.
Senior vice-president Michael J Ballingall said two staff members tested positive for the disease last week, and he is unsure how many additional cases there are in the wider community.
“They’re not in what we call front of house positions,” he told Global News.
Ballingall said since the staff members did not directly interact with the public, resort management did not issue an exposure notice.
Approximately 12,000 skiers and snowboarders visited the mountain this past weekend.
“We are a private company dealing with private individuals that were not in the workplace environment when they came in contact with COVID-19,” he said.
“So we believe that it’s not our position to inform the public of the health of an individual that didn’t affect the workplace.”
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A testing team with the Interior Health Authority (IHA) has been deployed to Big White after cases were detected related to social gatherings.
Interior Health confirms some asymptomatic testing is occurring given the “shared nature of some accommodations” and to identify possible cases early, it says in a statement.
Ballingall said 60 staff members and residents were tested on Friday, and additional testing occurred until 4:00 p.m. on Monday.
Asymptomatic testing is a departure from testing practices in B.C. to date.
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Testing was reserved for people experiencing symptoms, such as a cough or fever.
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“Like many communities, we have detected cases of COVID-19 related to the transmission caused by social activity in homes and accommodations,” Interior Health said.
No outbreak has been declared.
Ballingall said staff sign a “social contract” to abide by restrictions, and those living in staff accommodations must agree to an additional set of rules, such as no visitors and no hosting parties.
But he admitted it is difficult to police the resort’s 600 staff members when they are out in the community on their own time.
Pre-pandemic, half of all resort staff would be hired from outside Canada, but due to the border closure, the vast majority of workers are Canadian.
That’s posing some challenges, Ballingall said, because many staff have never worked at a ski resort before, and require additional training.
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He said resort management would welcome more of a police presence in the resort community.
“There’s not a lot of activities on the mountain now with the closures of COVID-19 and the bars that are closing at 10 o’clock,” Ballingall said.
“There really is no enforcement between 10 o’clock and six o’clock in the morning. And we would welcome the presence of RCMP. They could react to calls very, very quickly. And if there was anyone breaking the rules, we know that they could enforce or ticket those that are offending,” he added.
Kelowna RCMP was non-committal about boosting resources at Big White, saying staffing allocations are based on “ongoing discussions” with community partners.
An officer is not permanently assigned to the resort of Big White, but officers will respond to emergency calls and those involving potential violations of COVID-19 health orders.
An RCMP spokesperson confirmed police are not aware of any complaints regarding parties and no fines have been issued.
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Meanwhile, Interior Health reassured visitors that activities at Big White Ski Resort are safe, as long as people follow provincial health orders and directives.
“We would like to thank Big White’s community leaders for their ongoing support as public health works to ensure any cases of COVID-19 are detected and supported as part of our ongoing efforts against COVID-19,” the health authority said.
The Central Okanagan has once again become a provincial hot spot for COVID-19, with more than 1,000 cases detected from January to the end of November.
From Nov. 29 to Dec. 5, the most recent reporting period, 314 new cases were recorded in the region, and per capita case totals are among the highest in B.C.
Big White’s COVID-19 safety plan can be found here.
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