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Yukon's Takhini Hot Pools wants to reopen, but says it's been 'radio silence' from gov't

As many businesses start to reopen in Yukon, the owner of the Takhini Hot Pools feels he may have 'slipped through the cracks' — and worries his business won't survive the COVID-19 pandemic. 

'I don't know what category I'm in ... I feel like we just kind of slipped through the cracks'

'We have not been able to get any information from government on when we might be able to reopen,' said Andrew Umbrich, who owns and operates the Takhini Hot Pools with his wife Lauren O'Coffey. (Submitted by Andrew Umbrich)

As many businesses start to reopen in Yukon, at least one entrepreneur feels he may have "slipped through the cracks" — and worries his business won't survive the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"On April 1 we received a letter from the chief medical officer's office, ordering us closed. Since that date, we have not been able to get any information from government on when we might be able to reopen," said Andrew Umbrich, owner of the Takhini Hot Pools.

"We've just had radio silence from the government, unfortunately, and it's been very frustrating."

The Takhini Hot Pools, just outside Whitehorse city limits, typically operates year-round but makes most of its money in the summer months, and mostly from tourists.

Besides the hot pools, there's a campground and hostel on site. Those are still open, but Umbrich says with the actual hot pools closed to bathers and the territory effectively closed to tourists, there's not many people staying there.

"Our property is just quiet. There's no one on it," he said.

Last month, the territorial government issued guidelines for many businesses to reopen, such as hair salons, tattoo parlours, and eat-in restaurants. Those businesses had to submit operational plans to health officials for approval.

Umbrich isn't sure what he's supposed to do, because it's not clear to him what guidelines he should be operating under.

The Takhini Hot Pools in 2013. (CBC)

"I don't know what category I'm in. And I just feel that since my business is a unique type of business in the Yukon — no one else has a privately-operated public pool — I feel like we just kind of slipped through the cracks," he said.

Last week, he submitted a reopening plan to the government, using a basic template from the government's website. He based his plan on what other businesses are required to do.

Umbrich said Monday that he hadn't heard anything back yet.

CBC requested an interview with the Department of Health and Social Services about the hot pools. A department spokesperson said in an email that she would "follow up" on it, but had not by publication time.

Bathers can maintain physical distance, Umbrich says 

Umbrich says his business has received some financial help from the federal and Yukon governments, but those funds are just helping to cover some basic costs and keep his business "in stasis." He and his wife typically collect no income through the winter, and they count on summer business to pay themselves a salary.

He says if they can't open by July 1, they may have to just pack it in.

"Our business is likely going to go bankrupt and the hot springs will just close permanently," he said. 

Umbrich doesn't understand what the delay is for his business. He says he can reduce the capacity to ensure bathers stay physically distant while in the water.   

"You can easily hit 50 people in the pool, with everyone practicing safe social distancing," he said.

He also says the water is chlorinated, so it's safer than swimming in a lake. 

In an interview with CBC News last month, microbiologist and public health consultant Vicky Huppé said the risk of transmitting COVID-19 through water is relatively low, and adding chlorine to the water reduces that risk even further.

Umbrich says the changing rooms could be the issue but he points out that private fitness gyms, also with shared changing rooms, haven't been forced to close during the pandemic. 

"So at this point, we just don't know what it is keeping us closed."

With files from Christine Genier

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