The City of Rossland responded to ongoing concerns of ‘Locals Only’ advocates.
Councillor Dirk Lewis put forth a motion at a Jan. 18 city council meeting that asked the province to enforce travel restrictions that would compel visitors and tourism operators to follow ‘locals only’ policy.
“While council has no powers to impose new restrictions with respect to COVID-19, we do have a mandate to represent the voice and concerns of our residents and encourage a space that is as safe as possible,” read Lewis’ motion. “The current influx of winter tourists is disconcerting and a legitimate cause for concern in our community.”
As a small community and popular ski and recreation destination, the city and its businesses depend on tourism, however, under the glare of the current pandemic spotlight, the community’s health takes precedence.
“We’re hearing from community members and their concerns, there’s people they don’t recognize in town, and they’re assuming that they’re visitors,” explained Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore. “We appreciate what all our local businesses have done to follow the rules of provincial health officer and all the rules, the policies, recommendations and guidelines – they’re doing a really good job, but we also want to make sure we stick with it.”
With a new COVID variant that is even more virulent, tight-knit communities like Rossland are working to avoid outbreaks such as those at Big White and Revelstoke.
The city encourages residents and temporary workers to follow all guidelines, and for non-residents to stay home and support their own local recreation operators and businesses.
“We have no issue with those folks who have followed the rules and quarantined for 14 days,” said Moore. “Many have been here for months.
“Our concern is for short-term visitors who come for brief holidays, do not quarantine, and congregate against the Provincial Health Officer’s recommendations.”
Rossland council sent a letter to the Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, and the Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, asking for further clarification and requesting that more be done to promote the recommendations that people stay home.
Council requested a more definitive version of what is considered “local” from the provincial government.
Does “local” mean stay within your Provincial Health Authority, your Health Service Delivery Area or to the micro-level of a Local Health Area?
According to a press release, council suggested that using the Health Service Delivery Area would be a good compromise. It would reduce acceptable travel to the Kootenay Boundary region and yet allow the local economy to survive.
The Kootenay Boundary Health Service Delivery Area is the region that includes the area from Rock Creek through the Boundary region to Grand Forks and from Trail to Castlegar, Salmo, Nelson, the Slocan Valley, Nakusp, Kaslo and Crawford Bay in the West Kootenay.
Moore was also quick to point out that not all people with out-of-province licence plates are visitors. Many may have moved to Rossland as seasonal workers or have secondary homes in the Golden City.
“We have a lot of people that move to town,” said Moore. “So you may not recognize everybody in the grocery store like you use to, because there are people who are not just visiting short term, they have actually moved here.”
The controversy surrounding inter-provincial and non-essential travel came to a head locally when the Castlegar mayor resigned after receiving public criticism for traveling to his family cabin within Interior Health over the holidays.
It was also highlighted by a Whistler emergency room physician who reported seeing a number of patients from Quebec and Ontario during the holiday period and called for a halt to non-essential, inter-provincial travel.
During a press conference, Thursday, Premier John Horgan announced that, after seeking legal advice, the province did not have the constitutional power to restrict travel. However, he made a plea to BC residents and non-residents to avoid non-essential travel.
Mayor Moore concurs, imploring residents and visitors to respect the PHO recommendations.
“If we stay safely home now, we can all celebrate together later,” added Moore. “Its important to remind others; our family, and friends, that unless they are able and willing to quarantine for two weeks and follow all health recommendations, they should stay home until it’s safe to visit.”