Regional Director Noba Anderson invited many of Cortes Island’s key businesses and community groups to a Zoom conference call to explore responses to COVID-19. Thirty-nine people connected by phone or computer and a second person appeared on several computer screens. Many embraced the idea that we should act as if the virus is already here. In-so-far as is practical, most attendees appeared to want to see Cortes self isolate.
Cortes Can Self Isolate
“If you live on Cortes, stay put. Purchase your gas and food supplies locally. We have everything we need. If we rely on local stores to administer those supplies and have them brought in, there is no need for anyone to go off island right now,” said Teri Cunningham, from the Squirrel Cove General Store.
Some Procedures & Measures
All four of the island’s stores described their sanitization procedures and measures they have adopted to protect their customers, staff and products. Here are a few examples:
“We’re ensuring excellent air circulation in the store. Our staff has been wearing N95 masks, the same mask ambulances use. It keeps out about 95% of the pathogens and is supposed to be great for the COVID virus. Our staff have gloves. We have gloves for customers when they enter the store. Gloves are a must when handling produce. We removed the bulk bins and self serve items. We’ve encouraged preorder of groceries and pick-up, over store visits,” explained Bill Dougan of Gorge Harbour
“We’ve scheduled an hour for just seniors and more vulnerable people before the day starts. We have sanitizer at the door and we also ask customers to sanitize as they leave. We have pick up for people who do not want to enter the store and also deliveries, daily or as needed,” said Bertha Jeffery of the Cortes Market.
She needs more staff. One of her employees is sick and two others did not want to risk exposure.
Staff Staying Home When Sick
“We’ve closed our bulk bins and are prepackaging all of that food. We currently have four people out who are sick, not necessarily with the virus but with something, so now they need to stay home for two weeks. That is four people out of the twenty employees that we have,” added Eric Hargrave of Cortes Natural Food Coop.
It is no longer possible to eat out on Cortes. The Floathouse Restaurant, Coop Cafe and Cortes Market’s Deli have all closed. Squirrel Cove General Store no longer offers coffee or edible treats.
“BC Ferries wants to ensure that vital goods and services are making it to the island in a timely manner. FAC suggests that, if there are full sailings, priority should be given to food delivery, medial services, suppliers, couriers and that would involve some kind of messaging to the community that these kinds of services have priority,” said Ushi Koebberling of the Cortes Island Ferry Advisory Committee.
She added, “BC Ferries is considering cancelling sailing that are above their required contract with the Ministry. That would include extra sailings around Easter or, in our case, on the Sunday morning 7:50 run.”
Harbour Authority Cortes Island (HACI) is concerned about the fact their docks are entry points to the island and is asking that recreational boaters defer visits to Cortes.
“We are also asking the public to avoid the docks. This would allow people who own a boat, are paying moorage, or use the docks for commercial purposes to have a better chance to practise social distancing. We also want everyone to know that our facilities are not being sanitized. They have never been sanitized; are not going to be sanitized – so use them at your own risk,” said Bob Katko, President of HACI.
The Seattle Yacht Club relayed the message that while their dock is still open, boaters are not being allowed to come ashore.
Bill Dougan agreed, “There are a lot of boats out there. We’ve opened up some space for transient moorage [at Gorge Harbour]. If people show up on the docks and they do need moorage, whether it is because of a storm or they need supplies or fuel, we can accommodate them but they cannot access land from our docks.”
Ignoring Self Quarantine & Self Distancing
There were a number of complaints about Cortes residents ignoring self distancing, or refusing to go into self quarantine after returning from abroad. Someone mentioned a party at Smelt Bay over the weekend. There were also reports of people lining up to purchase fish at Mansons Landing. When a woman was asked to move back, she allegedly replied, “I don’t believe in that.”
Someone also complained about a recent frisbee golf tournament.
(Added later: One of the participants emailed that it was a “small private event where everyone kept their distance. Everyone showed up in different vehicles so I don’t understand what we did wrong. Don’t assume that a small gathering did not adhere to advice given.”)
Shaun Koopman, Emergency Services Coordinator for the Strathcona Regional District (SRD), said senior provincial government officials are looking at ways to enforce the emergency act.
“That is likely coming, but I cannot say what that would look like.”
The SRD also opened up a Level One Emergency Operations Centre, in Campbell River, last week.
Places For People To Self Isolate
Director Anderson asked, “Are there community places for people to self isolate if they are sick: Hollyhock? the motel? Linnaea?”
“That is definitely something we are interested in talking about,” said Peter Wrinch from Hollyhock.
Cortes Community Health Association
Stephanie Bentzon, from the Cortes Health Centre, explained, “The Clinic has moved to virtual appointments. We are typically starting with telephone, but can also move to video. That being said, if there is a medical need for you to come in, typically you’ll chat with me or maybe Jeanne Menge or the MOA (Medical Office Assistant) and then we’ll book you in.”
“We still do a certain number of visits that are in person, as needed. We are spacing those out. It is one person in the clinic at a time, usually one an hour is the maximum.”
They are trying to assess people with infectious symptoms in their cars, so that the clinic can remain a safe place. (People who are moderately ill will have to be transferred off island.)
Ed Safarik explained that most of the Cortes Community Health Association’s other programs “are shut down because they involve social interaction.”
The exception is the Augmented Home Support Program which is currently looking after ‘six fragile elders.’ They “provide healthy meal preparation, light housekeeping, shopping for food on island, transportation to medical appointments on Cortes, etc.”
“We are considering recruiting a reserve of people willing to perform the services,” said Linda.
Bernice McGowan is in charge of Island Health’s Mercy Care and Home support services on Cortes Island.
“I have a lot of frail elders on my client list. I can do phone visits with them at the moment. We have two health support workers and they are giving the most direct care. Fortunately our clients are mostly homebound and they are able to keep their contacts down. At the moment, it is business as usual,” she said.
Letter To Be Left At Neighbour’s Houses
“Quadra ESS has a template for a letter to be left at neighbour’s houses. Connect with me, here’s my name, I live right next door. I can get your mail or medication etc. I edited that for the Cortes situation. I think there is some overlap, but there is no harm in duplicating our services.”
Seniors Helping Seniors
A number of Seniors Helping Seniors volunteer drivers have suspended their services because of the COVID 19 threat. Carina Verhoeve is trying to find younger volunteers to drive seniors to the Health Centre and back home. (phone 250-935-6793 if you can help.)
Kim Robertson described her recent duties with BC Ambulance, “I’ve been busy ensuring that our crew has enough PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) to keep themselves safe and able to do their job. We’ve increased cleaning at the station level. All the crew is really diligent about getting swabs out to health providers if they develop any influenza like symptoms. I’ve developed a plan with the fire department, to ensure their safety if we are called out on a medical assist. We are in touch with our suite managers, who are developing a plan for any possible fuel shortage.
Fuel was also on the mind of the President of the Cortes Island Fire-Fighting Association.
“The main thing with the fire department is to keep the trucks rolling and keep them staffed. We’re trying to keep all our personal protection gear up to speed. If volunteers start having to drop out, because they are looking after family or are sick themselves, we will have to beat the bushes on semi-retired volunteers like myself who are still able to get to drive the trucks. We have stocked up as much as we possibly can with fuel and batteries and all the stuff we go through. It would be really great if we knew from the Regional District what plans they might have to take exceptional actions if necessary to ensure the delivery of fuel,” said Chris Walker.
“We have 22,000 litres of fuel stored up for emergency purposes, so there is no need to worry,” said Dougan.
The Coop, Gorge Harbour and Linnaea Farm have all opened up spaces for people to garden. Hollyhock is considering using its flower beds for food production.
“We are planting as much food as we possibly can. We’re going to be cultivating as many seeds as we possibly can and we’re looking at ways we can deliver our educational programming specific to growing food in the Pacific Northwest on an online platform,” said Tamara McPhail from Linnaea Farm.
Kristen Schofield Sweet says the Bee Islets Growers Corporation is not selling any more shellfish, but farming continues.
There must be a way to change legislation, so that growers could sell to the local market and start smoking oysters in the longer term.
Director Anderson mentioned 2½ journalists on the call; there were actually 3½:
- She welcomed the National Observer’s new reporter, Rochelle Baker.
- I was ‘invisible’, in that I did not speak and was quietly taking notes in the background.
- Howie Roman said he must be the half and described Cortes Radio’s new protocol in the station. (He offered to help organizations get their messages out to the community.)
- Manda Aufochs Gillespie announced she will be broadcasting Folk U over the airwaves (CKTZ, 89.5 FM), every Friday from 1-3 PM.
More Details About Postponements
Tamara McPhail explained, “At Linnaea, we’re still reeling from the idea we may not be offering any of our educational programs this year, so a lot of our energy is taken up with ‘how are we going to make our year work?’“
Peter Wrinch from Hollyhock said, “We have postponed our season from April 14 to May 15 at this time … Pretty soon we will be making decisions about May 15 to June 1st. We have a few staff members working with social distancing practises in place and are considering asking everyone to work from home. Our Vancouver office has been virtual for the last three weeks.”
Cortes Community Housing’s April 30 public meeting will likely be postponed. They are still hoping to break ground for four new seniors’ cottages in mid May, but there are questions about suppliers and sub-trades coming from off island.
“If we’re going to use the kitchens to produce food, are we going to need to ensure there is only one cook in the kitchen at a time?” asked Ashley Zarbatany.
Mary Lavelle, manager of Mansons Hall, had similar questions about using the kitchen.
She described what the shutdown means to the Southern Cortes Community Association (SCCA). While Mansons Hall is closed to the public, tennents still have keys and can freely access their spaces. Lavelle put up a closed sign on the skate park and locked the outdoor toilet. The SRD informed the SCCA that they will not have to police the park area.
Lavelle added that the SCCA ” … will be looking at things like whether Cortes Day can go forward this year.”
Cortes Is Doing Well In This Crises
Adam McKenty, of the Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA), said, “I just arrived last night from Berlin and just want to say how well Cortes is doing. You are more organized than a lot of cities. I’m impressed and the measures that are being put in place here are also ahead of lots of places in the world.”