False start to winter season, as COVID-19 outbreak hampers western Newfoundland businesses
New snowmobiles, but no clients to ride them, after travel restrictions put in place following outbreak
A surge of COVID-19 cases has prompted what amounts to a lockdown in the metro St. John's region and parts of the Avalon Peninsula, with health officials warning that the virus may have spread farther — and on the west coast of the island, the impact is being felt.
Craig Borden, the co-owner of Rugged Edge, a sports and recreation guided tour company in Corner Brook, was looking forward to finally having enough snow to accommodate the first big weekend of his winter season.
But now it looks like things are on hold.
"This weekend we had close to 40 people going out for group tours or riding with us or taking part in our rentals this weekend," Borden said, but all of those clients have called to postpone. "It is a lot."
There are five active cases in the Western Health region, as of Friday afternoon, the most recent of which was announced Thursday and deemed to be travel-related.
The province has a total of 260 active cases as of Friday — 250 of those in the Eastern Health region. But Dr. Janice Fitzgerald is warning that public health officials expect to start finding more cases across the province, as tracing continues.
The lack of snow this winter for western Newfoundland has stunted the region's normally bustling winter recreation and tourism industry.
For example, Marble Mountain has had to cancel its plans for opening weekend skiing, it announced on Feb. 10.
In accordance with Public Health and the recent increase in cases we are unable to open as scheduled for this weekend. We will provide another update next week when we know more. <br><br>Thank you all for your ongoing support and patience. <br><br>Stay Safe and let it snow! <a href="https://t.co/auAlf7k6Zd">pic.twitter.com/auAlf7k6Zd</a>—@SkiMarble
Borden had been looking forward to this weekend's business, and was ready for the influx of staycation clients.
"We were having more bookings than ever, so we bought a lot of new snowmobiles in the last few weeks to be ready for this weekend. We had a lot of bookings. From now until St. Paddy's Day we were at max capacity, which we haven't seen for a few years, so it was great to see that," he said.
So far, the people calling from outside the western region have said they want to plan a trip once they're able, Borden said. The snowmobiling season in Gros Morne National Park has officially opened, and Borden said the elevation means snow tends to stick around longer on the west coast.
"Since the announcement for non-essential travel due to the COVID outbreak, we're lucky, we haven't had cancellations. People postponed their trips for a later date. Unfortunately, they did cancel this weekend, but for the most part, most people are saying they're coming back at a later date, as soon as it's safe to travel and get back here again," he said.
"Luckily we haven't had anyone say, 'Hey, give us back our deposit, we're cancelling our trip.' Most have said, 'we wanna come out, we've gotta come out, and we want to support local businesses.'"
Also feeling the far reach of COVID-19 is the Western Kings hockey team, which had travelled to St. John's for a tournament last weekend.
In an emailed statement, the team confirmed that a member of an opposing team they played against had visited one of the restaurants identified by public health officials as a possible exposure site.
During their trip back to Corner Brook, they found out that player had tested negative for the virus, but later results confirmed a positive result.
The team confirmed that there was a "potential exposure" and members have been self-isolating and monitoring for symptoms while awaiting further advice from public health. As of Thursday afternoon, no one had yet exhibited any symptoms.
Meanwhile, the travel restrictions also mean Liberal Leader Andrew Furey won't be in his district on what was supposed to be the night of the provincial election.
While, as of Friday, districts outside other than the 18 listed by Elections NL were slated to hold their regular in-person general voting, Furey won't be able to travel to his district of Humber-Gros Morse to be with supporters at a small gathering originally planned in Deer Lake.
"I think it's a great decision that they stay put, given the issues we have had around the province in different pockets with COVID," said Deer Lake Mayor Dean Ball.
"I know from a municipal perspective we would have loved to have seen him, but we are OK with him staying put."
With files from Colleen Connors and Bernice Hillier