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As COVID cases rise across B.C., more Whistler businesses close temporarily

New two-week health orders intended to get handle on escalating COVID numbers
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As COVID-19 cases rise both in Whistler and across B.C., a number of resort businesses have closed temporarily. A quiet Whistler Village is pictured in mid-March. FILE PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS

More Whistler businesses have temporarily closed their doors as COVID cases continue to rise both locally and across B.C.

On Monday, Nov. 9, Fresh St. Market announced it has reopened its doors after temporarily closing on Sunday, Nov. 8. That evening, the store became aware of an employee who tested positive, leading to the closure. According to a statement, the company hired a third-party service for “thorough deep cleaning and sanitation overnight.”

The infected employee last worked at the store on Nov. 5, and anyone who may have worked with the individual has been asked to self-monitor.

“The health and safety of our staff and customers is our highest priority,” said Mark McCurdy, Fresh St. Market Vice president, in the release. “Upon learning of our employee’s positive test for COVID-19, we immediately activated our response protocols including working together with Vancouver Coastal Health to ensure we have all the health and safety measures in place to safely reopen. Following a thorough deep clean and sanitation of all areas of our store, we are safe to re-open.”

Mexican Corner also closed last week after an employee tested positive. Staff members who may have been exposed have been isolating and monitoring for symptoms, with plans to reopen later this week.

“We definitely put the safety and health of our staff and community as our first priority, and we decided to voluntarily close until Friday,” said owner Pepe Barajas.

While a spokesperson for Earls referred Pique’s questions to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), a sign posted late last week at the entrance to its village location indicated the restaurant had closed “out of an abundance of caution for our guests and employees” in light of the rising number of positive cases in the community. This week, VCH listed Earls Whistler as a public exposure site. The agency lists the possible exposure period as operating hours between Oct. 31 and Nov. 6. 

Buffalo Bills is also listed as a public exposure site, with possible exposure noted as being during operating hours on Halloween, Oct. 31. Pique has requested more information from owner-operator Gibbons Whistler and will update this story if a response is provided. 

As part of its public employee case list available online, Loblaw, the parent company of Shoppers Drug Mart, reported that three staff members from the village store have tested positive on presumptive COVID tests. The employees last worked at the store on Oct. 28 and 31.

Loblaw said it is choosing to share updates about positive COVID-19 test results among its staff in order to maintain transparency.

"In these cases, we work closely with public health and follow their guidance to ensure proper notification of close contacts and required cleaning and sanitization in our stores," the company noted on its website.

Cornucopia, Whistler’s annual celebration of food and drink, announced this weekend it would be postponing the festival for two weeks in response to new provincial health orders announced on Saturday, Nov. 7.

Event producer Watermark initially planned to run throughout the month with a full roster of modified, physically distanced events set to take place between Friday, Nov. 6 and Sunday, Nov. 29. That is, until B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced new restrictions prohibiting social gatherings for the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, of which Whistler is a part, for a two-week period.

Watermark president Sue Eckersley is hopeful the festival can resume as planned following the two-week orders, but in the meantime, is offering refunds “no questions asked” to ticket buyers who request them.

“We have a decent bullhorn and it seemed very tone deaf for us to do Cornucopia,” said Eckersley. “Mind you, it isn’t the Cornucopia of last year; it’s seminars and smaller dinners, not the big parties we usually host, but still a lot of people associate Cornucopia with parties, so it’s in the best interest of our community and the B.C. community to shut down and throw our support behind these public health orders.”

The health orders come as COVID cases have spiked both in Whistler and across B.C., which has seen 998 new cases and five deaths since Saturday, pushing the number of active infections province-wide to 4,891.

While VCH doesn’t publicize COVID numbers in smaller communities like Whistler unless it is unable “to reach all close contacts and determines it is necessary to inform the public about a potential exposure," according to a spokesperson, local doctors have been urging community members to do their part as local transmission of the virus has steadily risen in recent weeks.

“We’ve seen such few cases for such a long time—they’re very low numbers. And then just in the past week or so, it seems to be picking up a little bit,” said Dr. Olivia Bayley from the Whistler Medical Clinic on Thursday, Nov. 5.

“I think there’s the potential for this to really disrupt winter in Whistler, meaning businesses having to shut down temporarily, or you can even imagine the mountain being shut down.”

To learn more about COVID-19 health protocols, visit covid-19.bccdc.ca.

-With files from Megan Lalonde and Lindsay Wiliam-Ross

This story has been updated as more information became available. 



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