The West Coast is shutting down its winter tourist season for two weeks in an effort to stem the tide of rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island.
In a joint-statement released on Nov. 25, leaders from the Districts of Tofino and Ucluelet as well as the Tla-o-qui-aht, Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ and Toquaht First Nations, urged all potential non-essential travellers to postpone any trips to the West Coast until at least Dec. 8.
“On a very tangible, personal level, the actions of every West Coast visitor and resident really matters right now,” said President Charles McCarthy of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government through the joint-statement. “The rising case numbers on Vancouver Island are very concerning, and we hope that everyone can see the value in respecting these temporary measures so that we can come together again as soon as possible.”
The statement explains the Tofino General Hospital serves all the communities in the region and is only equipped with 10 acute medical in-patient beds, 5 emergency room stretchers, and one ventilator.
“Since the recent provincial announcement, our West Coast communities have received an outpouring of support from people who love the area and understand the limited healthcare resources available out here,” said Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel. “As people’s plans are cancelled and rescheduled, we want to remind visitors that our local businesses have been wholly committed to following all orders and recommendations of health officials, and we’re working together as a region to make sure that we’re ready to welcome you again when the time is right.”
Last week, an employee at Ucluelet’s Black Rock Resort tested positive for COVID-19, leading some local restaurants to go back to take-out only service.
On Nov. 22, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation announced it was locking down ints West Coast communities due to a member testing positive.
“Our Nation has completely closed to visitors and we can’t forget that we are in a worldwide pandemic,” said the chair of Tla-o-qui-aht’s Emergency Operations Centre Elmer Frank. “These measures have been put in place to keep our citizens safe, and our communities have sacrificed so much to make sure our most vulnerable residents stay safe. Like our members, we’re asking visitors to also please stay home for now.”
Tofino’s acting mayor Britt Chalmers acknowledged that nixing tourism will impact local businesses and accommodation providers and expressed gratitude for their understanding and financial sacrifice.
“I would like to thank the business community for how quickly they pivoted in light of the new health orders. We know how difficult this is coming into the Christmas season, but we also want to celebrate how well our community works together to support each other,” Chalmers said through the statement. “COVID-19 continues to pose a particular risk to rural and remote areas like ours with limited healthcare resources. We are joining the province-wide effort to stop the spread of the virus as we focus on the health and safety of our small communities by reminding West Coast residents to stay within the communities in which they reside or work and support local businesses as much as they can. In addition, we strongly encourage visitors to join us in our efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 by also staying home.”
West Coast residents are also being asked to stay out of currently closed areas, like Hesquiaht Harbour, Ahousaht territory, Toquaht lands and the Tla-o-qui-aht communities of Esowista, Ty-Histanis and Opitsaht.
“The West Coast is a tight-knit community and we’re relying on each other to make choices that keep our region safe,” said Toquaht Chief Anne Mack. “We know that Toquaht territory include some very special places to the residents of the West Coast, and I sincerely want to thank everyone who continues to respect our request not to visit Toquaht lands until we know it is safe to host you again.”