It’s one thing to operate a tourism-based business during the pandemic, but another to do so beneath a looming and lengthy COVID-19 cluster.
But that was the hand forced upon Big White Ski Resort for the 2020-21 ski season.
However, on Friday, after more than three months and 237 cases of COVID-19 connected to the popular resort southeast of Kelowna, Interior Health declared the community cluster had been contained.
“All cases have recovered,” stated a release from Interior Health. “Of the 237 cases of COVID-19 linked to this cluster, 150 have resided and/or worked on Big White Mountain.”
The remaining 87 cases were visitors.
“The science said it all – this wasn’t going to be over in two weeks,” said Michael J. Ballingall, Big White’s senior vice president.
Ballingall said the mountain cancelled more than $8 million worth of reservations after limiting visitors to only those from the Central Okanagan and immediate Boundary region before Christmas.
“The pandemic has been an enormous loss for business and the trades,” he said.
Ballingall said vaccination clinics took place at the ski hill last week, helping further protect everyone.
Interior Health credited work by the Big White team and the local community for keeping ski-hill visitors safe during the community cluster.
Ballingall said that acknowledgement will go a long way for staff.
“It’s very thoughtful for those leaving the ski hill this season,” he told Global News.
The virus spread quickly in December, largely in part due to living conditions and unsanctioned social gatherings on the ski hill, according to health officials.
Many ski hill workers, at the time, were sleeping four to a room.
Looking forward, Ballingall said news of WestJet expanding flight routes this summer will help the tourism sector recover.
“I’m really excited for Canada’s playground this summer. It’s very positive news,” he said.
When it comes to the last days of the ski season, Ballingall said they remain open and encourage locals to take in the 45 centimetres of fresh snow that have fallen on the slopes in the last week.
Meanwhile, Interior Health said everyone in all communities should remain vigilant and follow COVID-19 precautions which include:
• Keep to your household bubble and avoid social gatherings.
• Stay home when you are sick and get tested if you have any symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
• Practise physical distancing.
• Wear a mask.
• Wash your hands often.
• Avoid all non-essential travel.
Booking a COVID-19 test
Online: You can book an appointment online through the COVID-19 test booking form: https://interiorhealthcovid.secureform.ca/index.php
By phone: Call the COVID-19 test booking Line at 1-877-740-7747 for assistance with booking your test.