WITH CONFIRMED cases of COVID-19 continuing to rise in B.C.—and Vail Resorts announcing on Saturday that it will cease activity at all resorts (including Whistler Blackcomb) until March 22—the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) will activate its emergency operations centre on Sunday at 8 a.m.
The decision is proactive, said Mayor Jack Crompton, and meant to ensure community resources are coordinated and public health officials have quick access to whatever they need.
The emergency operations centre allows key municipal staff and other agencies to gather to coordinate an emergency response.
"Emergency program staff work in collaboration with local first response agencies (e.g. RCMP, Whistler Fire Rescue Service and the BC Ambulance Service), Emergency Management British Columbia and other community organizations to develop and implement plans to protect the community during major emergencies and disasters," according to the RMOW's website.
Reached by phone on Saturday night, Crompton said he was saddened to hear the news of Whistler Blackcomb closing.
"This is devastating for Whistler; obviously this pandemic is devastating for the world," Crompton said.
"That said, we are a resilient community and we will get through this. We will take care of each other. We will come out of the other side of this like we have in the past."
Late on Saturday night, SilverStar Mountain Resort near Vernon also announced it will suspend operations for the remainder of March.
While Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has yet to confirm any cases of COVID-19 in Whistler, two cases were confirmed in Pemberton on March 14—and rumours about potential cases in Whistler have reached a fever pitch.
"I think it's crucial that we listen and take direction from the experts in their field," Crompton said when asked about the rumours.
"I find great solace in knowing that we have some of the most-educated and talented people in this country working on managing this pandemic. If we take their direction, we will be better off. It's why I am so committed to taking our direction from medical health experts rather than rumours or what is shared on the internet."
There's been a clear angst amongst many in the community over the local response to the growing COVID-19 crisis, with some criticizing the apparent lack of urgency.
But Crompton said he is committed to providing clear messaging through VCH—wash your hands, don't touch your face, stay at home if you are sick, practice social distancing, don't travel outside Canada unless it's essential and don't hold gatherings of more than 250 people.
"If you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate yourself and phone 811—do not automatically attend the clinic if you are experiencing these symptoms," Crompton said.
"The municipality doesn't employ epidemiologists, scientists and public health professionals. If we start putting our opinions into the public realm instead of the advice of professionals, we will create more damage than we will help our community."
Municipal facilities like the Meadow Park Sports Centre and programs like Kids on the Go will remain open at VCH's direction—for the time being.
The RMOW is also adjusting the registration process on Sunday, March 15 to allow families to register by phone in a priority order.
Starting at 6 a.m. at Meadow Park Sports Centre in person, your name and phone number will added to a list and you will be given an approximate time RMOW staff will call you to take your Summer Camp registration by phone.
RMOW staff will begin calling families at 6:30 a.m. to take registrations.
Anyone arriving at Meadow Park after 6 a.m. will be added to the list in order of priority.
Parents can contact KOTG@whistler.ca if they have any questions.
If a family is returning from travelling outside of Canada, their children will be required to stay home from RMOW Spring Break Camps and Kids on the Go after school programming for 14 days.
The RMOW will provide a refund for camp days and after school days for families that cannot attend Spring Break camp or KOTG because they have travelled outside of Canada.
Children who are sick or who are showing symptoms including fever, cough or cold are asked to stay home (families will also receive a refund if their child stays home due to illness).
"This is all changing extremely quickly, and I won't guess what will take place related to this pandemic next week, or the week after that," Crompton said.
Find more info here: www.vch.ca/about-us/news/vancouver-coastal-health-statement-on-coronavirus.
Find the latest from the RMOW at whistler.ca/covid19.
Check back with Pique for more as this story continues to develop.