COVID-19 testing underway at Big White Ski Resort after several staff parties reported
2 test positive, 12 in isolation so far; parties took place earlier this month, marketing director says
Officials with Interior Health are conducting a second day of COVID-19 testing at the Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna, B.C.
Resort management said the health authority — which oversees Kelowna and the rest of B.C.'s southern Interior— administered 60 tests on Friday and will begin testing another 60 to 80 people on Monday.
Marketing director Michael Ballingall said the tests are in response to a number of well-attended parties hosted by resort staff earlier in the month.
He said the situation is concerning because many resort employees live in close conditions during the ski season.
According to Ballingall, two employees have tested positive for the virus and 12 others are in isolation because of possible exposure.
"In the community right now, there are a lot of nervous young people," said Ballingall on Monday during an interview on CBC's Daybreak South.
He said the number of positive tests is unknown at this time but said staff who tested positive were never in contact with the general public.
Big White 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.
"We hope they abide by the provincial health officer's rules but sometimes those things get in the way of staff parties, birthday parties and other such gatherings," Ballingall said.
As an employer, Ballingall said he can't control what his staff do on their free time or monitor if there are parties being held at the resort community in private homes.
First case reported on Nov. 28
The resort falls within the jurisdiction of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. Frances Maika, a communications officer with the district, says the regional district's bylaw officer hasn't received any complaints about provincial health order violations at Big White.
"Across any community across B.C. right now and across the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, if people observe things that they feel are not in compliance with provincial health orders, they can definitely phone the regional district during the day, and if it's after hours, the RCMP," Maika said.
A spokesperson for the Kelowna RCMP said the detachment has a satellite office at Big White and officers patrol the area as part of its jurisdiction.
"If we receive a complaint of a loud party or a situation that is potentially in violation of the criminal code, provincial acts, bylaws, or the provincial health orders, we will investigate that incident," Cpl. Jocelyn Noseworthy said in a written statement.
Interior Health has confirmed it was conducting tests at the resort on Friday.
In a statement to CBC Monday, the health authority said it is investigating community cases of COVID-19 in the resort municipality and, given the remote circumstances, has deployed a team to Big White to carry out testing.
According to the statement, it will include asymptomatic testing to identify cases as early as possible, because many people in the community live in shared accommodations.
Interior Health has not declared an outbreak at the resort.
Ballingall told CBC News he believes the first case became known on Nov. 28 and said resort staff have been working backwards with Interior Health to trace contacts.
He said the resort did not go public with the information earlier because it is "not the obligation of a private company to go out there and start to tell people what is happening to private citizens of our organization."
Ballingall said he does not know how many cases of COVID-19 are currently in the mountain community.
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.
To hear the complete interview with Michael Ballingall on CBC's Daybreak South, tap the audio link below:
With files from Chris Walker, Daybreak South, Radio West