The Regional District of East Kootenay has passed a resolution urging the province’s top doctor to provide clarity and introduce stronger measures around inter-community travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resolution was passed unanimously during an unusual monthly board meeting on Friday, which was streamed online, as board directors met remotely through video conferencing technology.
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka, who appeared as a delegation, said he had discussions with Stan Doehle, the Area B director for the region around South Country and Jaffray, over concerns of an influx of travellers during a pandemic.
Shypitka said he wrote a letter to the province suggesting a closure to non-essential traffic, before the board discussed the issue and passed a motion asking for clarity from the province.
“As a region we are united in our desire to reduce the impacts of this virus on our health care system and our communities,” said Rob Gay, the RDEK board chair, in an news release. “While the Provincial Health Officers on both sides of the border have been clear in their messaging that people need to be staying home, that message is not being heeded. We are gravely concerned about the potential impacts on our small rural hospitals, front line workers and communities.”
The letter will call on the Provincial Health Officer to implement additional measures, such as closure of the Provincial border to non-essential traffic, closure of private campgrounds and closure of the backcountry to overnight camping, be put in place to limit the influx of travel to and within, and gathering in, the region during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are urging all non-resident property owners in our region to please stay in their primary homes. There should be absolutely no travelling back and forth,” said Gay. “In addition, we are seeing groups of campers in the backcountry, groups of mudboggers in the Koocanusa area, several families staying together in vacation homes, and more. The Provincial Health Officer has stressed repeatedly that, while the order has only banned events of more than fifty people, there should be no group gatherings of any size.
“Every interaction with others increases the potential for the spread of infection and this behaviour needs to stop. We want to be very clear that this is not a province to province issue. This is also about behaviours locally within our region.”
The RDEK Board, which represents all of the rural areas and municipalities within the East Kootenay, doesn’t have the authority or the processes to enforce the closures and inter-community travel, according to Gay.
“Under the Provincial State of Emergency, local governments do not have the tools to make these changes ourselves, but we are pleading with the Province to act now to help us prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our corner of the Province,” said Gay.
Easter weekend typically sees a surge of thousands out-of-region visitors coming to East Kootenay and there are lingering concerns on the stress an influx of people will put on emergency services, the health care system, local grocery stores and other essential service providers, especially in smaller communities.
“This is about making a conscious choice to stay home and stay safe,” said Gay. “We are asking the Provincial Health Officer to introduce new measures that will prevent all non-essential travel and make it clearer that we need to stay home.”