'We're in a Catch 22 situation': Whistler business owners in a bind as COVID-19 cases surge
VANCOUVER -- Jeremy Peterson is keeping his Whistler restaurant closed over the weekend. The reason?
“The safety of my staff and the safety of my locals and my regulars,” the owner of Stinky’s on the Stroll told CTV News.
COVID-19 case numbers have surged in Whistler with 288 positive cases confirmed this month alone, which is more than all of last year. And just this week, six restaurants and pubs have had exposures, while 12 Fairmont Hotel Whistler staff are in quarantine.
“I wanted to do the best for my town and we’re in a Catch 22 situation,” Peterson said, commenting on the challenge of needing to pay bills while dealing with the health crisis.
“There’s a lot of people from out of province travelling here right now,” he added. Peterson told CTV News the crowd at his friend’s restaurant on Thursday “was 40 per cent Ontario and Quebec people, another 40 per cent from Vancouver and probably 20 per cent Whistlerites.”
The majority of the transmission is not linked to skiing at Whistler Blackcomb, which has strict COVID protocols in place. Health officials say it’s happening among young people who live, work and socialize together.
“This is a story of a housing situation that puts people in a difficult spot with a pandemic comes through like this one is,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton. "People who live in large congregate housing are more at risk than those who don't, and when (COVID-19) gets into a house it moves very quickly, and that's what we're seeing."
When it comes to balancing between the local economy and public health, the mayor said it has to be all about the pandemic right now.
“Our full focus as a community is to do everything in our power, is to do everything we can to get to the other side,” said Crompton. "Please stay local, stay home, reduce your impact and influence on the people around you.”
The provincial health officer addressed Whistler in her Friday news conference, saying “we are working with the industry, with all of the industries involved, to come up with a community way of supporting this.” Dr. Bonnie Henry added that enforcement around vacation and rental properties needs to be stepped up, and her team is working on that with different ministries and communities around the province.
“I would say day trips are less risky with your family, your household. If you’re somebody who works or has strong connections and lives partly in Whistler, then yes that is your local ski hill,” she added.
Vancouver Coastal Health put out a statement Friday morning reminding those who live in the Lower mainland that a travel advisory remains in effect and skiers should stick to their local hills. “If you live in Vancouver, stick to the North Shore mountains,” the statement on the Vancouver Coastal Health Facebook page reads.
There are other businesses in Whistler that have quietly shut their doors. Pandora had a sign up saying it will remain closed until “it becomes safe, per health officials, to reopen our business.”
Peter Elzinga owns The Beach, and at the beginning of the pandemic decided to cash in on online sales to make ends meet.
“We were counting on people from the Lower Mainland but now it’s just not a good idea anymore,” he told CTV News, “it’s been a big hit to our sales.”
Elzinga too wants to see those still travelling to Whistler following the rules more closely, but doesn’t want further crack down.
“It’s hard for me to be jumping into that pool simply because we have a lot of people from Squamish who come up,” he explained, “I’m not that big a fan on cracking down more, I think it’s just that you have people be aware of what they are supposed to be doing when they are out and about in public.”