British Columbia

60 COVID-19 cases linked to Big White resort near Kelowna, B.C.

A cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to the Big White resort community near Kelowna, B.C., has grown to 60 confirmed cases, according to the Interior Health Authority.

Large number of people in shared homes and social gatherings to blame for spread, Interior Health says

Skiers stand at the top of Big White ski resort near Kelowna, B.C., in February 2005. Officials say 60 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to the resort community. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

A cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to Big White ski resort near Kelowna, B.C., has grown to 60 confirmed cases, according to the Interior Health Authority.

The spread of the disease in the mountain community is mostly due to shared housing and people socializing with one another, health officials said Tuesday in a statement.

"Large households and social gatherings appear to be responsible for much of the COVID-19 transmissions related to this cluster," the statement reads. 

"This highlights the importance of limiting social activities and following COVID-19 protocols when indoors."

Health officials reminded resort residents that socialization must be limited to people in their immediate households, in keeping with an order by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, which extended a ban on social gatherings until Jan. 8.

'Nervous young people'

Resort management at Big White said it called upon health officials to conduct testing on site because of concerns of COVID-19 spread at a number of well-attended parties hosted by resort staff.

"In the community right now, there are a lot of nervous young people," Big White marketing director Michael Ballingall said on Monday.

The Big White resort community has a year-round population of 251, according to the 2016 Census, but that number swells to more than 2,000 during the winter.

Approximately 600 people are employed by the resort this season. Ballingall said many of them are under the age of 30, away from home for possibly the first time.

Testing to continue

The Kelowna area has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 in recent weeks, with daily new cases rising tenfold since early November and per capita case loads among the highest in British Columbia.

Interior Health conducted 140 tests at the ski resort over the course of two days, focusing on people living in large households even if they were asymptomatic, said medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema.

"We have seen many people live in the same household become a positive case, so that is not unexpected," she said.

Outreach testing at the resort community will continue, she said.

The health authority said it is confident with the ski resort's safety plan and said outdoor activities at Big White are safe as long as people follow the direction of public health officials. 

"It is safe to do that as long as [people] keep to themselves, in the same way they would do in any other community," Mema said.

"We are seeing COVID-19 across the region and Big White is no exception."


Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan

With files from CBC Radio West