Coronavirus or holiday lights? Upcoming holidays will test our resolve  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: Local virus super-spreader event avoided! Comox doc wants Island bubble

Nov 12, 2020 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

Just when you thought the COVID virus pandemic couldn’t consume more of your life, this week happened. Infections surged around the world. Metro Vancouver became a Canadian hotspot along with Quebec and Ontario.

Right here at home, a Comox doctor and a Victoria newspaper called for a bubble around Vancouver Island to maintain our relatively virus-safe environment.

But, did you know that the Comox Valley narrowly avoided becoming the epicentre of a COVID virus super-spreader event? Probably not, and for that you can thank the quick action of North Island Medical Health Officer Dr. Charmaine Enns and her team.

The Comox Valley Economic Development Society recently put up a public website inviting people to purchase tickets to a three-day Seafood Festival Nov. 20-22 at Crown Isle Resort in Courtenay.

And the website touted its line-up of featured chefs, many of whom would be coming from the Lower Mainland.

The website promotion was oblivious to BC Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recently imposed special restrictions on the Lower Mainland due to a surge in new infections centered in the Metro Vancouver area. Her new advisory strongly suggested against all non-essential travel in or out of the region.

Chefs coming from a high infection area to prepare food for guests — who might also be coming from off-island — should have raised red flags for somebody.

When Decafnation contacted the North Island public health office on Monday, Nov. 9, we discovered that the festival organizers had not reached out to ensure they were complying with the current public health orders.

But Dr. Enns put her team to work. Within hours we received a response from Charlene MacKinnon, Senior Environmental Health Officer.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention, our team is not aware of the event. We are currently in the process of looking into the matter,” MacKinnon wrote to Decafnation. “As Dr. Enns mentioned we will make sure that the event meets the current orders and health recommendations.”

By late Tuesday, the Economic Development Society had changed their website. It now promises to feature only Vancouver Island chefs, although it makes no mention of refusing attendance to off-Island people.

However, the website continues to promote the appearance of Patrick McMurray, a world champion oyster shucker from Toronto, Ontario, where new COVID cases hit 1,575 on Nov. 12, a single-day record high for the third day in a row.

Neither Deana Simpkin, chair of the society’s board of directors, or Executive Director John Watson, responded to multiple requests for comments on the festival’s planning. It usually takes place in mid-summer.

Who knows what might have happened if public health officials hadn’t stepped in. It might have been fine, or it could have been a disaster. But it shows how we all need to be vigilant in our lives and businesses because one careless moment, one irresponsible act could affect thousands of other people.

 

CITY COUNCIL SPEAKS, BUT NOT THE MAYOR

Decafnation also reached out to several Courtenay City Councillors to gauge their perspective on the potential virus-spreading event in their city.

Melanie McCollum, who sits on the Economic Development Society board of directors, said she only found out about the event from a hotel manager two weeks ago.

“I fail to see the logic of proceeding with this event, but I can assure you that input from the CVEDS board has not been part of the process of moving forward,” she told Decafnation. “I don’t know who this event is being marketed to, or how many people they are hoping will attend. I don’t understand the rationale for going ahead.”

Doug Hillian pointed out that neither the city or the regional district has been asked to support or endorse the festival.

“While I would see such an event as questionable in current circumstances and would not attend myself, it appears to have been framed as a series of dining experiences with restaurant-specific safety plans in place,” he said. “You may be aware that the Fall Fair operated this past summer with reduced numbers as per health guidelines and with regional district support.”

Wendy Morin has previously voiced disagreement about holding the Seafood Festival during the pandemic.

“I think this is the wrong time to be having the Seafood Festival, even with adaptations for smaller numbers. I have concerns generally about promoting visitors to come here this winter,” she said. “Apparently there is a campaign going on inviting snowbirds. Other communities that rely on tourism such as Ucluelet and Tofino are telling visitors to cancel accommodation reservations. It is the responsible thing to do, especially with our soaring Covid cases recently.”

Mayor Bob Wells said he wasn’t aware of the event when first contacted by Decafnation, but has not offered a comment.

 

BUILD A COVID WALL, ER, BUBBLE

Should Vancouver Island put up a COVID-wall, figuratively speaking? A Comox doctor thinks so.

Dr. Alex Nataros, with the Port Augusta Family Practice, has suggested creating a bubble around Vancouver Island to protect our low COVID infection rate. In a letter to Dr. Charmaine Enns, Nataros writes:

“In light of markedly increased rates of COVID-19 … in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, which stand in stark contrast with the low rates we have preserved in the Island Health region, as well as clear violations of Public Health guidelines including well documented Oct. 31, 2020 public celebrations in downtown Vancouver, I would respectfully ask that, as our North Island Medical Health Officer, you consider advocating for an Island Health regional COVID-19 ‘bubble.’

“As PHO Dr. Bonnie Henry announced … you now have the scope and authority for more region-specific guidelines. I hope that you and our Public Health officers continue your excellent work to date, and move forward with the leadership our region needs.”

Thinking along those same lines, the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper said this in a recent editorial:

“Local hospitality associations like Tourism Vancouver Island are encouraging Canadians from across the country to visit Vancouver Island this winter. The British Columbia Hotel Association likewise is inviting snowbirds to vacation here instead of heading south …

“Beyond our climate, the unspoken part of the tourist industry’s campaign is apparent: Come here to escape the epidemic. Surely this is not a message we should be comfortable with … As winter approaches, with the threat of a flu season pending, that job is only half done … Permitting an influx of holiday-makers from across Canada at this time, with no controls or protocols that would limit spread of the virus, cannot be in our best interests.”

We concur with both of those sentiments. And keep your oyster chefs in Vancouver.

 

THE BRILLIANCE OF ANTI-MASKERS

Finally, we’ll end with a COVID story you won’t believe. And we are not making this up.

New Westminster police have charged Mak Parhar, a 47-year-old BC resident, under the Quarantine Act for repeated violations; specifically, three counts of failing to self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to Canada.

Parhar, a well-known BC anti-mask proponent, was arrested when he returned from South Carolina, where he had attended a flat earth conference.

This article’s reference to Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells was updated Friday morning.

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