UPDATED: Local governments, community groups implement COVID precautions

UPDATE MARCH 15: B.C. health officials Saturday announced nine new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 73 cases in the province. The individuals are in the Vancouver Coastal, Fraser and Interior health regions.

“Five cases are connected to a cluster at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, one case is linked to travel from Portugal and the remaining three cases are under investigation,” said a joint statement from Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

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“Public health teams continue to be on site at both the Lynn Valley Care Centre and the Hollyburn House Retirement Residence, working to contain potential transmission to other residents and workers.”

The joint statement also asked British Columbians to be “measured in their purchase of groceries and other basic necessities. Our retail supply-chain providers have assured us they have an abundance of supply and are restocking regularly. There is no need to stockpile.”

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UPDATE: In their March 13 briefing Health Minister Adrian Dix and Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there were 11 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C., all patients within the Vancouver Coastal Health region. They include three administrative staff at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver and one new case at the Lynn Valley Care Centre.

Henry said the other five new cases are travel linked, involving people who’d been recently to Iran, Egypt, Philippines, and Mexico.

Friday’s numbers bring the total of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province to 64, with two now in hospital, six fully recovered and one fatality.

The Sunshine Coast is part of the Vancouver Coastal Health region, and the Health Ministry reiterated to Coast Reporter its position that it “will only be identifying the health authority jurisdiction where patients reside and not any particular community.”

The other major development is that the advice from earlier in the week to cancel events or public gatherings of more than 250 people is now a mandatory order under Henry’s authority as the provincial health officer. She said one reason for the change is to allow event organizers to make insurance claims.

“We’re not talking about shutting down society here,” Henry said. “It’s still very safe today in B.C. – all across B.C. – to go out, to go shopping, to go to restaurants.”

Meanwhile, Sunshine Coast local governments and community groups are following the advice from Dix and Henry on limiting the potential spread of COVID-19.

“With the increasing transmission of COVID-19 at mass gatherings and events, in addition to the escalating risk of community transmission, we must do our best to slow transmission of COVID-19 and protect our communities,” Dix and Henry said in a joint statement released Thursday evening.

“We are recommending against all non-essential travel outside of Canada, including to the United States. Effective today, anyone who chooses to travel outside of Canada will be asked to stay away from work or school for 14 days upon their return. We know that this is a voluntary measure, but it is our expectation that people will follow this direction as part of their civic duty.”

Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers and Gibsons chief administrative officer Emanuel Machado, who are both returning from travel, said they are following that directive to self-isolate although neither has any symptoms.

“The safety of our staff and citizens is the most important thing right now. As I am returning from a vacation, my husband and I will be placing ourselves in 14 days of self-isolation as a precaution,” Siegers said in a March 13 press release about Sechelt’s COVID-19 response.

“We all must take this very seriously.”

Machado, who was at a Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) sponsored conference in South Africa, said FCM staff who were at the conference have also been asked to follow self-isolation protocols.

Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) director Andreas Tize, who represents Roberts Creek, is currently out of the country and said he will follow self-isolation protocols when he returns and use Skype or Zoom to participate in SCRD meetings. 

Dix and Henry also said they were “directing all event organizers to cancel any gathering larger than 250 people. This includes indoor and outdoor sporting events, conferences, meetings, religious gatherings or other similar events.”

The District of Sechelt said that Municipal Hall and the Visitor Information Centre will remain open for the time being.

“Cleaning of all community buildings and washrooms has been increased and plans are being put into place to maintain operations in the event of a loss of workforce due to illness,” communications manager Julie Rogers said in a press release. “Beginning next week protocols will be put in place to allow some staff to work from home. Citizens are asked to conduct business with the District by email or phone as much as possible.”

The district has also cancelled all non-essential meetings and the planned climate change consultation called Game of Floods scheduled for March 19 has been postponed. Future meetings and events will be assessed seven days prior to their scheduled date.

The district said council meetings will continue, but people are being asked to watch the proceedings on YouTube instead of in person. There will be limited seating available at meetings and seats will be placed two metres apart “to maximize social distancing.”

Anyone with a booking at a district facility will be able to cancel and receive a full refund regardless of the timing of the cancellation.

Machado said the Town of Gibsons is also taking measures to step up the cleaning of Town buildings.

In a statement on its website the Town says, “To date, the Sunshine Coast has been relatively unaffected. However, the Town is taking scientific, fact-based steps to help prevent the spread of the virus and to safeguard the health of our employees and citizens.”

While Town Hall is open, residents are encouraged to conduct business with the Town by email or phone as much as possible.

Council meetings and public hearings will continue as scheduled and, like Sechelt, officials in Gibsons will be spacing the chairs in the gallery farther apart than usual. “Any residents who have flu-like symptoms, who may have come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or who have recently returned from travel outside of Canada are asked not to attend,” the Town said.

Non-essential meetings have been cancelled or postponed, including the March 31 Gibsons Community Leaders Meeting.

“As the Leaders Meeting was for informational purposes, and not decision-making, we believe the responsible thing to do is to postpone it,” said Mayor Bill Beamish. “Instead, we will focus our resources on helping the community respond appropriately to COVID-19.”

All SCRD facilities, which include the Coast's major rec centres and pools, remain open. "Any changes to service levels will only be made after careful consideration and we will continue to interact closely with Vancouver Coastal Health and follow the guidance or direction of the province," the SCRD said in a statement issued early Friday evening.

The SCRD also says it is increasing the cleaning of transit buses and SCRD facilities and putting procedures in place to allow some staff to work from home.

Board meetings will be held as scheduled, but will have limited public seating to allow for extra space between chairs.

"We need to recognize the serious nature of this unprecedented situation," said chair Lori Pratt. "The safety of our staff and all residents of the Sunshine Coast is our highest priority."

School District No. 46 has released an update for families with March Break scheduled to start Monday, advising them of the directives from the provincial health officer. “The school district will continue to publish COVID-19 updates to the district website at sd46.bc.ca as appropriate. We will send another update to all families on Thursday, March 26 or sooner if required,” said superintendent Patrick Bocking.

Organizers of the Sechelt Winter Market said it will open March 15 and 22, with vendors being asked to practise enhanced safety measures including social distancing.

“Farmers’ markets are uniquely positioned to provide a level of normalcy to their communities in difficult times. We talk of resiliency, security, sustainability and the need for local – now it is time to live up to our promise and potential and do more, not less, in a reasonable way,” said Sechelt Farmers’ Market president John Byrnes.

With COVID-19 impacting travel plans for many, Sunshine Coast Tourism executive director Paul Kamon said in a March 12 update that the organization “has been closely monitoring reports and health advisories in British Columbia and the surrounding region to best understand how the coronavirus COVID-19 may impact the tourism sector.

The tourism group is encouraging “best practices for stakeholders and visitors to help minimize the spread and protect our communities.”

The update notes that the “Sunshine Coast remains a safe and welcoming destination for all travellers.”

Local brewers have also stepped up precautionary measures. Tapworks, The 101 Brewhouse and Distillery, and the Bricker Cider Company are on longer accepting outside growlers for fills.

Here are the event cancellations or changes Coast Reporter is aware of:

• The Gibsons Public Library has cancelled its public programming effective immediately. The Library is open as usual.

• The Sechelt Public Library will remain open but said it has cancelled children, youth, and adult programs. The tech drop-in and tax preparation appointments will continue as usual.

• The 2020 BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool’s Run has been postponed to Sunday Aug. 9.

•The remainder of regular season Sunshine Coast Minor Hockey League activities have been cancelled.

• Seedy Saturday at Roberts Creek School on March 14 is cancelled. The secondary event at the Masonic Hall is still scheduled to happen outside.

• All events at High Beam Dreams have been suspended and will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

• The Pender Harbour Health Centre has cancelled its Harbourside Friendship program and all Senior Initiative programs for the remainder of this month.

• The March 14 comedy event at 101 Brewhouse and Distillery has been cancelled.

•The March 14 Yoga On Tap event at Persephone Brewing Company has been cancelled.• The March 15 Sunday Jam at Pender Harbour Golf Club has been cancelled; restaurant will remain open.

• Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives has postponed its March 21 exhibit and book launch with Dr. Laura Millar.

• The March 29 Sunshine Coast Community Orchestra concert at Chatelech Secondary School has been cancelled.

• The Sechelt Seniors Activity Centre Society has cancelled all regular bus trips to the Lower Mainland. Tai-chi and Argentine tango classes have also been cancelled.

• The Sunshine Coast Arts Council is keeping the Doris Crowston Gallery and its offices in Sechelt open, but is postponing scheduled film screening, exhibition opening and meet the artist events.

• Jackie Hildering’s talk as part of the Marine Education Centre’s Climate Action Speaker Series has been postponed. A new date has not yet been announced. 

• The Gibsons United Church’s weekly Friday gatherings are temporarily suspended.

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