second Cortes Community COVID-19 Response

Second Cortes Community COVID-19 Response Conference

Around 29 local businesses and organizations signed in to the second Cortes Community COVID-19 Response Conference. This session was more topical: front line services like medical response and stores, off-island traffic, and enforcing the provincial guideline.

What Do We Do About People Who Are Not Self Isolating?

At the last meeting, there were reports of gatherings in which people were not self isolating. 

One of the participants subsequently emailed a correction to Cortes Currents, “everyone kept their distance … Don’t assume that a small gathering did not adhere to advice given.”

How should the community respond to situations where people are either ignoring, or are perceived as ignoring, best practises?  

Loni Taylor, from the Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA), said her organization, “… would like to specifically encourage everyone to focus on their own choices and health decisions, alienating others for their choices will only cause more [detriment?] to our community relationships.”

Bertha Jeffery, of the Cortes Market, responded that she and her workers come into close contact with the public every day. 

“We do not always know who is self isolating and there has to be some way for us to know.” 

Ed Safarik, Cortes Community Health Association, has a simple answer for people who do not believe the COVID 19 pandemic is a real crises, “You can believe what you want, but give me six feet of space.”

Traffic From Off-Island Traffic   

Regional Director Noba Anderson asked, “Should people returning from Campbell River self isolate for 14 days?” 

“It is very critical for me to leave the island and do pick-ups. I don’t have the staff to send someone over and the companies over there can’t do it for me. If I have to self-isolate for 14 days after I go to town, the store closes,” said Curt Cunningham, owner/manager of Squirrel Cove General Store

“People still need to go into town. If I had to go to town for a doctor’s appointment, I would probably do some [shopping] and bring it back with me,” added Bill Dougan.

Best Practises & Going to Town

“It may help to have a decision support tool for people going on and off island … Things like going to a full serve gas station, or how to manage personal care and hygiene. There is a lot of false belief around [the idea] that just wearing a pair of gloves protects you – and it doesn’t,” said Jeanne Menge from the Cortes Health Centre.

Her colleague Stephanie Bentzon added that gloves do not protect people if they are touching things, like their phone and face.

Part Time Residents

Safarik raised another point,“Is someone who lives here 5 months of the year still considered ‘part time’? They will come, I don’t think there is any way of stopping them … but we should tell them they should isolate for two weeks.”

Off-Island Trades

What about tradesmen coming from off island? 

Dougan observed, “This is an extremely difficult issue to deal with because ‘what is an essential trade?’ I have guys that practically begged me to let them stay because they have to take down trees for an elderly couple. I don’t know if this is true, so I rented them a place.”

The questions around off-island traffic are especially complex for the Cortes Community Housing Committee, which hopes to break ground for four new seniors’ cottages in mid May.

“The first priority is keeping Cortes Islanders healthy,” said Housing Coordinator Sandra Wood. “Obviously, when the project does start we need supplies and materials from off island and there will be some sub-trades coming from off island as well. we are at the stage where we are just going to be reviewing the tender bids next week. I would say, in the early stages most of the work will probably be from locals.”  

At this point, construction is still considered an essential service.

BC Ferries 

Local ferry traffic is currently at about 40-50% of the normal volume. 

“BC Ferries issued a travel advisory that indicates there should be essential travel only. They are also working on a posting link to the various communities calling on non residential, non essential customers – not to come to their communities. That will be a link under the COVID 19 page. They expect to have that ready in a few days,” said Ushi Koebberling of the Cortes Island Ferry Advisory Committee

She added, “They are also working on new signage, in bright colours, focused on social and physical distancing, staying in vehicles, no cash payments and that some lounge areas are being closed etc.”

“I talked to our chair [Michael Lynch], and the higher ups informed him that at this time there are no planned cut backs on travel. The ferries will not do any policing [regarding observance of government regulation], they can only do encouragement …”


“As far as limiting the ferries, this is the same conversation we had on Quadra, and it’s not something the ferries are capable of doing. We can’t turn people back. The Canadian Charter of Rights allows free movement around the country unless there is an emergency measures act invoked, or some other legislation, but you can discourage people from coming. I know both Quadra and Cortes are very welcoming communities, but it can be done in a very respectful way. Social pressure is the oldest form of policing and it can be very effective,” said Cpl Sean Bulford of the Quadra Island RCMP.

“This situation is all new to everybody, The Government does seem to have a real appetite for [martial law] at this point. That is a good sign, I guess. Today, they announced the mandatory isolation of people returning from international travel because there are a lot of people flouting it and a lot of media stories about that. It hasn’t come down the chain yet, how that is going to look, but it will fall upon us to enforce it.”

Impending Government Intervention?

As the meeting was closing, Shaun Koopman, Emergency Services Coordinator for the Strathcona Regional District (SRD), made another allusion to impending Government intervention

“I am hearing a common theme on this concern about many trips being made to town and I am hoping that what I am working on with the province will alleviate some of that concern.”   

“Can you say more?” asked Regional Director Noba Anderson. 

“No, I am purposefully being vague,” said Koopman.

Cortes Island’s Stores Overwhelmed

“We just lost another employee because of isolation. Our sales are equivalent to the summer and we have half the staff. It basically falls on Wendy and I and its getting really hard to deal with. We can’t keep on going like this. One suggestion is that all of us stores have one day a week off and we can take turns, having a day when we shut down,” said Bertha Jeffery of the Cortes Market. 

Bill Dougan, Manager of the Gorge Marina, responded, “I’d be more than happy to take a day off as well!” 

Recreational Boaters

Dougan also had an update on the situation with recreational boaters, who are currently being denied access to land.

“All of our communications with tourists so far has been positive. I’ve had no issues what-so-ever, people totally understand. I had four boats come to the dock today, for fuel and supplies … We allowed one person from each boat to go up [to the store] and get what they need. Nobody had any issues … and that seems to be generally the way.”   

The Bigger Picture

“Overall, we are seeing a lower daily increase in transition than the rest of the world, Canada and BC are lower than the mean average. So we are doing good in that regard,” said Koopman.

According to statistics released yesterday (Mar 26), there are 4,018 confirmed cases of COVID 19 and 52 of these are in the Island Health area.

“I understand that people are looking for guidance on all the policies that are coming out from senior levels of government every single day. The province does have a COVID 19 page that has everything on there from emergency funding for businesses, education, child care etc. There is also a ton of sign options at the Regional District.” 

Bertha offered to print some of the signs at the Cortes Market. 

Looking Forwards To Summer

A lot of people are wondering what summer will bring.

Hollyhock has pushed its reopening target to May 29 and converted gardens to food production. 

Sandra Wood suggests that people who normally turn winter tenants out so they can operate as BnBs, consider letting their tenants stay.

The Health Community 

Bernice McGowan, of Island Health, started the process of reaching out to the island’s other health service providers. Consequently, she was able to report: 

“Augmented Home Support might have to limit services if people are symptomatic of anything. It might be that door to door service people wouldn’t be able to come in to do your house keeping. We were talking about that.”

“Hopefully the larger group [of health service providers] will start talking about what capacity the various existing programs have to increase services to people. Some of that is logistical: who’s working, how much money do we have etc.”  

 Stephanie said, “The Cortes Health Clinic is a private clinic with a limited capacity at the level of care. We can’t safely integrate people and we are going to try to avoid that at all costs. The plan now is to transfer people who are moderately ill. We are looking more into palliative care on the island and if that is a possibility.”

VIHA has contingency plans in case the hospitals are swamped with sick people. 

“There would be outpost buildings, providing more care, in Campbell River and Nanaimo.”  

Top photo credit: A young business woman holding Macbook in her home office by Nenad Stojkovic via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)