Cortes Island Going Into Lockdown

Cortes Going Into Slowdown

As of yesterday’s press conference, there were 16 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Vancouver Island Health Region. The closest known case is two ferry rides away in Campbell River. The Province of British Columbia declared a state of emergency for the next 14 days, which may be extended or rescinded as necessary. There are many reports of Cortes going into slowdown.

Empty sidewalk in China at the height of the pandemic – courtesy via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Good News From Abroad

If we can trust the statistics, there is good news coming out of the nation where COVID-19 was first reported, on November 17, 2019. The number of active cases in China has been steadily dropping for the past month. As of yesterday, March 18, the number of active cases is only 12% of what it had been. 

A similar drop in the number of reported cases comes from South Korea, where they peaked over two weeks ago. 

Canadian Stats

This supports the recent prediction by Island Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. Richard Stanwick, “From a planning perspective, we’re probably looking at four to six months for this virus to pass through the community. 

COVID-19 is still spreading rapidly in Iran, Italy, Spain, France and the United States.

In Canada, there were 690 confirmed cases as of 6 PM, March 18, 2020. 69% of these were travellers returning from abroad and 13% are their close contacts.

A Really Uncertain Time

Locally, many Cortes residents are going into self isolation. Others are losing their jobs. The prevailing atmosphere is ‘uncertain’.

“The only place where there any people, is the store. Driving back and forth to work, there’s nobody. It’s just dead,”  said Eric Hargrave, Manager of the Cortes Natural Food Co-op

While the store is doing well in terms of sales, people no longer linger to socialize.

RCMP Suspending Front Counter Service

The Quadra Island RCMP, which also services Cortes and Read Islands, is suspending front counter service. Routine matters such as Criminal Record Checks and fingerprinting will be put on hold. 

Cpl Sean Bulford wrote, “We are still available for emergencies 24/7 to deal with 911 calls. There are four, very dedicated members, stationed on Quadra to cover these Islands, and currently we are all healthy. We must minimize our exposure to ensure we are available as first responders in emergency situations.”

Layoffs At Island Sea Farms

One of Cortes island’s largest employers, Island Sea Farms, just laid off fifteen people.

“Ninety percent of our sales is to restaurants. With restaurants going down, orders dropped to the point where it wasn’t worth shipping. We aren’t selling any product until the scare is over,” said Ron Francis, operations manager.  

He and six other employees are still working the crop, in order to make sure we have a strong season next year. 

Francis has worked for Island Sea Farms for 17 years.

“We’ve never had to lay anyone off before, but we don’t know when we will start selling again.”

The Co-op Cafe

“Right now, the Cafe is only serving to-go food, we are not allowing anyone to sit inside,” said Hargrave. 

Sales have dropped to half their normal level.

“So, we’ll decide whether to close the cafe at the end of this week.   I don’t know if we are going to need to lay anybody off. We have had a couple of people ask to be laid off because they are not comfortable serving the public for health reasons, but right now the store is strong and the bakery is doing pretty well. If we end up closing the cafe, we might transfer a few people over.”   

Gorge Harbour Marina

The Floathouse Restaurant, in Gorge Harbour, closed its doors until April 17, 2020.  

“We have cancelled any tourist visits to the Resort for the next month . Our lodge, cottage and trailers that are rentable will be left empty for essential service people who may need to come over to assist with an outbreak on Cortes,” wrote Bill Dougan, manager of Gorge Harbour Marina, in the Tideline. 

He is determined to keep the rest of the marina’s operations open. 

“We are sanitizing the hell out of everything that people touch regularly. Door handles, gas pump, sinks, toilets our hands over and over again, the pin pad machine. Use tap please!!”

He added, “About two weeks ago we started to bring up our stock levels , anticipating challenges in the supply chains ahead and thank god. By the end of this week we will have increased our inventories to summer levels. This is enough food if all shipments were to stop for about 3 weeks, more than enough time to find solutions.”

Bulk Orders At The Co-op

“Right now, we’re still pretty busy. It’s Spring Break. We are still seeing quite a few tourists and people from off island. Over the last few days, we’ve had pretty strong sales in the store. A lot of people have been coming in and picking up extra this and extra that. It’s not really summer levels, but we’ve had more bulk orders than we’ve ever seen – bags of rice, bags of flour – but a lot of it is not going to come,” said Hargrave. 

“All of our suppliers are limiting what they are giving out. So we might have ordered twenty bags of rice, but they are only giving out one bag of rice to each customer per week – just to spread it out.” 

He added, “We just had a delivery today and received about 90% of what we asked for. So we’re not having any trouble with stock levels.” 

Squirrel Cove General Store

A notice on the Tideline states the Co-op, Gorge, and Cortes Market are offering to deliver groceries. 

Squirrel Cove General Store isn’t listed among them. 

“We all do what we can. As far as helping people and making deliveries, we’ve always done that. If they are quarantined and need help, I’ll help anyone, anywhere. I haven’t advertised because it should be for an emergency situation, ” said owner/manager Curt Cunningham.

He mentioned a couple of recent deliveries to shut-in customers, and extending credit to people who don’t have ability to pay.

How is business? 

Gas, diesel and propane sales have been twice the normal volume. Consequently, Cunningham finds himself in the embarrassing position of having to tell customers he has run out until next Tuesday.

He also reports, “Some people have been stocking up on groceries.”

Recycling Centre & Free Store

The Recycling Centre and Free Store are among the latest Cortes institutions to close down. 

“Staff has been instructed not to process recycling material. The landfill will remain open at this time. We ask the public to hold on to your clean recycling for now and only bring household garbage to the Recycling Centre at this time.Any recycling brought to the Centre will be put in landfill,” Brian Pfeifle wrote in the Tideline

Linnaea Farm

Another one of Cortes Island’s community halls, Linnaea Farm Education Centre, is closing its doors until March 31st. 

“ … At which time we will re-evaluate what our response needs to be to do our part to ‘flatten the curve’,” writes Tamara McPhail

The Doors of Linnaea Farm Education Centre have closed until March 31, at which point they will re-evaluate the situation – Roy L Hales photo

Job Postings

There are still job postings. The Cortes Marketer, distributed to half the mail boxes on the island, is advertising for summer staff: 

“Some jobs are to start immediately. Looking for people to join our team of customer oriented staff. Need front end clerks, freight clerks and data entry staff. Must be willing to work all shifts and week-ends.”

 The Cortes Museum asks: 

“Are you between the ages 18 and 30, living on Cortes Island OR knowing Cortes Island well? If so, we invite you to apply for the position of Museum Host/Interpreter starting in mid-June through to the end of August, for up to 40 hours per week.”

Will People Stick Around?

“It’s a really uncertain time. Now that the schools have shut down, will people stick around?’” asks Hargrave. 

“I know there are people who have second homes, who are coming because they feel more comfortable here than in Vancouver.” 

The change is especially noticeable in the Co-op: “We’re kind of a social hub. People used to come in and spend twice as much time as they meant to, but it’s not really happening so much anymore. People are coming in, getting what they want and hitting the door. Even though the numbers indicate its a busy day, it doesn’t feel like that because people are just coming and leaving again.”

Mandatory Shutdown Of Quadra Island

The Birds Eye reports a similar shutdown of Quadra services:

“In the space of just 72 hours, Quadra Island went from a voluntary, cautionary response to the COVID-19 emergency to a mandatory shutdown of services. On Monday, after the provincial health officer ruled that gatherings should be restricted to 50 people or less, the closure announcements followed. Quadra Community Centre and all the programs it runs, with the exception of the food bank, is shut down. The library is closed and due dates have been extended by six weeks. Customers are asked not to return any library materials until branches have reopened. Quadra Circle has suspended its Friday lunch at the Legion and activity program, but hopes it can continue to offer home meals and outreach to seniors in the community. Numerous social events including Celebrations of Life, annual general meetings and bingo nights, have all been postponed.”

Previously Listed Closures & Cancellations

  • Rochelle Baker, BC Government Closing K-12 Schooling Indefinitely (Mar 18) – all schools closed.
  • Roy L Hales, COVID-19 News update for March 17, 2020Campbell River Closures: Campbell River City Hall, Strathcona Regional District Administration Building, Enterprise Centre, Downtown fire hall, Downtown Safety Office, Dogwood Operations and Evergreen Water Operations and Water Supply Centre , Strathcona Gardens Recreation Complex, The Sportsplex and Community Centre; Campbell River Branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library; Cortes Island Closures & Cancellations: Gorge Hall & the Cortes Island branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library – closed, The Cortes Fire Department’s Easter Pancake breakfast, Hollyhock’s upcoming season (from April 14 to May 15) – all cancelled; Quadra Island Closure & Cancellation: Quadra Island branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library – closed; Quadra Island Safe Community Day – cancelled
  • Rochelle Baker, Islander Concerned About COVID-19 (March 16) – Quadra Island Closure Quadra Community Centre.
  • Roy L Hales, Our Area Is Preparing For Covid 19 (March 14) – Campbell River Cancellations: Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour; Pop-up Hockey, Friday afternoon events at Spirits Square; Free Swim & Skate at Strathcona Gardens; Cortes Island Closure & Cancellations: Manson Hall closed: Friday Market, Toki Bap Café, Parents & Tots group, Playschool, Cortes Radio’s 2020 Adult Cabaret; Whaletown Community Club’s AGM, Queer Film Night,  Folk First Aid course,Teen Szene, Cortes Museum’s AGM, Cortes Island’s Coffee House – all cancelled; Quadra Island Cancellation: Quadra Island Community Kitchen.

Top photo credit: Customer being served at the Cortes Natural Food Co-op