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'Lots of non-essential travel' last weekend, BICS exposure and what's within BIM's power?: COVID-19 & Bowen Island as of April 21

It's been a big week for COVID-19 news in B.C. Here's some of what it means for Bowen Islanders
Ferry headed off to town for fixes April 17
The Queen of Capilano left its route April 17 to go get some repairs done in town, leaving some car-bound tourists stuck on Bowen.

Keen-eyed Bowen Islanders noticed the Queen of Capilano steaming off into the sunset Saturday evening, deviating from its regular five-kilometre sea route. 

Of course, Cap was just headed off for scheduled maintenance April 17 but on a sunny spring evening, it left behind a Cove in some chaos, demonstrating just how many visitors came to the island over the weekend. 

Ferry delays earlier in the day

Earlier Saturday, at about 3 p.m., there was an impaired vehicle driver requiring medical assistance on the ferry, causing the boat to hold in dock. Paramedics had to medically clear the vehicle’s occupants and a tow truck had to remove the vehicle before the sailings could resume, which they did at 4 p.m. Bowen Islanders took to Facebook, voicing distress with delays. 

Hundreds caught unaware

But it was the tourists who were left inconvenienced after the Queen of Capilano’s last sailing from Bowen Island at 6:15 p.m. Hundreds of tourists – unaware of the cancellations – were left stuck on the island, said Cpl. Adam Koehle of Bowen Island RCMP in an email. 

Cormorant Marine had been hired to provide water taxi service instead of the scheduled sailings (three Bowen to Horseshoe Bay sailings were cancelled) but were shuttling people back to the mainland well after 11 p.m. said Koehle. 

There was a line of well over a hundred people on the Government Dock waiting for the water taxi and 30 to 40 more who chose to sleep in their cars, said Koehle. 

Union Steamship Company Marina allowed vehicles in its parking lot overnight as well and rented a couple of cottages to stranded tourists. 

“It was a hectic weekend,” said Koehle. “Lots of non-essential travel was happening.”

How many visitors are coming to Bowen?

Mayor Gary Ander said that when he went to the Cove during the police incident on the ferry Saturday, the Cove was packed. “People aren’t being really good either, our visitors,” said Ander. “I just didn’t notice that there was a lot of social distancing. Certainly not a lot of masks.”

However, Brendan Robertson of Bowen E-Bikes (which is beside the terminal) said that Easter weekend was particularly busy and in the weeks since, there’s been a drop off. 

The Hearth Gallery saw 23 visitors Saturday and 16 on Sunday, about the same as previous weekends, said executive director Jami Scheffer in an email. 

While the number of ferry passengers to Bowen in April won't be available until next month, the infographic below shows the Bowen ferry numbers so far this year (and for the past two years). 




Travel restrictions coming

B.C. Premier John Horgan announced Monday that travel restrictions are coming to B.C., limiting travel between health authorities to essential travel and enforced through road stops meant to discourage leisure and recreational travel. 

There aren’t to be “random individual stops” but rather check points (like impaired driving check stops during the holiday seasons) “at places like BC Ferries or on Highway 1 leaving the Lower Mainland, to discourage recreational travel,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth in a statement April 20. On April 21, Farnworth said there wouldn’t be roadblocks set up between VCH and the Fraser Health regions.

BC Ferries is also to cancel any reservations for recreational vehicles or camper vans, Horgan said Monday.

The announcement left many with questions. For example, would travellers be allowed to come to Bowen Island, which is part of the Vancouver Coastal Health region (of 1.25 million people)? As well, what is considered “essential travel”? More clarity is expected Friday when Farnworth formally introduces the new restrictions. 

What is essential travel?

One of the major points of confusion is what constitutes essential travel. While more guidance is expected Friday, the BCCDC website says, “Essential travel is travelling for work, school, medical appointments, and to obtain groceries, medicines, and other essential items. It can also mean travelling to care for someone like a family member who is ill. 

“Non-essential travel is travel for tourism, entertainment, or recreation. Stay local for these activities. For example ski and snowboard at your local mountain.”

Municipality can’t do much: Ander

With warm weather beckoning Lower Mainlanders outdoors while COVID-19 hospitalisations rise, some Bowen Islanders have taken to social media, asking Bowen Island Municipality to take measures to discourage visitors. 

Bowen Island Municipality will wait until the provincial travel orders are enacted Friday to decide what its next move is, said Ander Tuesday. 

But, Ander noted that it looks like travel will be restricted by health authority and VCH is vast. “Unless they…restrict that, we don’t have the authority to tell people they can’t come here,” he said. 

A likely move is, after the press conference Friday, depending on what’s said, putting out a press release discouraging visitors from coming to the island, as was done last spring. “We’re not in a position to stop the people coming over. But we can put out some press and say, ‘Hey… we’re just not really happy with it right now and we don’t recommend you come over at this point in time. We’d love to see it any other time.’”

While some have suggested BIM could enact a state of local emergency to limit those coming to Bowen, Ander said that the still in place provincial state of emergency supersedes anything BIM would put in place. “At this point in time, we don’t have a lot of tools to use,” he said. “We have just a nice letter saying to people we’d rather you didn’t come right now.

“I can certainly see the frustration of people that think that we’re in reasonable isolation because we are an island…we should be able to isolate ourselves totally. And we just can’t do it.”

Tourism sector

Among Horgan’s announcements Monday was that the province is working with tourism operators to cancel accommodation bookings from outside one’s health authority.

Tourism Bowen hasn’t yet heard from the province or Destination B.C. said administrator Jody Lorenz Tuesday. However, Tourism Bowen has been asking visitors to postpone their trips to the island since November when the public health officer issued a province-wide plea to halt non-essential travel. 

One of the island’s accommodation providers, Artisan Suites, announced on Tuesday that it would be closed to reservations until May 25 (essential travellers and Bowen Islanders excepted).  

BICS exposure 

Bowen Island Community School sent out its second-ever COVID-19 exposure notice Monday. A grade two class was advised of possible exposure on April 14, 15 and 16 and asked to self-monitor. The individual is self-isolating with support from public health, said the notice. 

On a different BICS-related note, school staff in the VCH region are being offered vaccinations on “an evolving schedule,” said principal Scott Slater in an email. “We don’t have our date but by the end of the weekend I believe 50 per cent of school staff in our district will have had the vaccine or access to it.”

Gargle tests for West Van students

Families in West Vancouver whose kids come down with COVID symptoms while at school will soon have access to easy-to-use gargle test kits.

West Vancouver school district (the district Bowen Island is a part of) is signing on to a project with B.C. Children’s Hospital that will see a number of at-home COVID test kits kept at local schools and offered to families when they come to pick up their kids who develop symptoms during the school day.

Read more: West Van schools to offer at-home COVID gargle test kits

-Jane Seyd, North Shore News

No more vaccination clinic days for Bowen

As of April 23, everyone over the age of 18 will be eligible to register for a vaccine appointment online or by calling 1-833-838-2323. This does not mean one will get an appointment immediately, it just means one is registered and the health authorities will contact them when they become eligible. 

VCH is currently administering first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

There are no more Vancouver Coastal Health vaccination clinic days currently scheduled for Bowen Island – Bowen Islanders are instead being directed to West Vancouver or other VCH clinics. 

Island physician Dr. Susanne Schloegl said that there were so few people at the last Bowen vaccination day (on April 10, a drop-in vaccination clinic for those 70 and over) that they packed up early. “It was kind of embarrassing,” said Schloegl. “I thought there was going to be this big rush of people and the only people that were there were younger [non-eligible] ones.”

When it comes to travelling to West Vancouver for a vaccination, Schloegl suggests it’s fairly low risk. “We’re not going that far out of our catchment area, but driving to Richmond or that sort of thing is a little bit pushing it.” The West Vancouver clinic is a “very well run clinic,” said Schloegl.

AstraZeneca Vaccinations for 40+

The province has opened its pharmacy-administered AstraZeneca vaccination program to those born in 1981 and earlier, Horgan announced Monday.

Cates Medicine Centre is providing the AstraZeneca vaccine on Bowen but as of publication time is all booked up. The pharmacy advises islanders to watch its Facebook page for news of when more vaccine supply become available. When slots do become available, they’ll be bookable online

For those interested in heading to the mainland for an AstraZeneca vaccine, there’s more information on the B.C. Pharmacy Association website and there are some drop-in locations.

How many COVID-19 cases have there been on Bowen?

As per provincial policy, Bowen Islanders have never been told how many cases have been on-island. “I would just assume that it’s around because it has been sporadically since the beginning,” said Schloegl. “And people should act accordingly.” (VCH also doesn’t tell Schloegl how many cases there are or have been on-island – she only knows about them if people happen to be her patients).

–With files from Jane Seyd, North Shore News; Alanna Kelly, Glacier Media; Elana Shepert, Vancouver is Awesome.

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