Bowen Island Municipality has activated a virtual emergency operations centre to coordinate its response to the COVID-19 pandemic as of March 18.
"The COVID-19 pandemic event is considered an 'emergency' within the meaning of both the Public Health Act and the Emergency Program Act. Activation of an EOC will help Bowen Island Municipality streamline our response and be eligible for provincial emergency funding. EOC activation does not mean Bowen Island is in a state of local emergency at this time," said BIM's communications coordinator Sophie Idsinga in an email.
All updates will be posted on bowenislandmunicipality.ca/eoc.
Earlier municipal response
The announcement comes the same day the province declared a provincial state of emergency and a day after BIM closed all its facilities to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must do this to protect our staff, who will continue to provide essential services,” said Mayor Gary Ander in a statement March 17.
The move came a day after BIM cancelled its events with the exception of the March 23 regular council meeting and closed its Community Recreation program.
“We are following the advice of the provincial government and health authorities in guiding our operations during this public health emergency,” said Ander in the statement. “We will continue to look to the health authorities for their guidance and will assess and update our protocols regularly, as necessary.”
Ander said that BIM is working to ensure they maintain essential services and water, garbage collection and sewer services will continue and the roads kept clear and accessible.
“Our staff are working from home as much as possible but you can still contact us by phone 604-947-4255 or e-mail email@example.com,” said Ander. “Please understand if we can’t respond to your requests with our usual speed and efficiency.”
“We are so pleased to see our community’s response to COVID-19,” said Ander. “Many groups and organizations have voluntarily cancelled events to help increase social distancing. Others have reached out in support of those who are self-isolating or considering self-isolating.
“This level of caring and thoughtfulness is at the core of our island community and is the root of what makes Bowen Island such a safe place to live. When things get tough, we pull together and take care of each other.”
Ander asked islanders to not buy more than they need but not to judge others when they were buying a larger quantity, “they’re probably shopping for multiple homes or families, perhaps friends or neighbours who are self-isolating. This is the time for compassion, not judgement.” He also asked that people not linger and chat in grocery stores or the pharmacy. “These are now essential services and they are doing their best to keep their own staff safe so they can continue to support Bowen Island.”
Ander also asked that islanders support local businesses, “They have been here for us so far, and they will be here for us once this has passed. Let’s make sure we are here for them, because our local businesses are local families.”
Ander said that BIM would give regular updates on its COVID-19 response.
“I think we’re doing as well as can be expected,” said the municipality’s Emergency Program Coordinator, Jennifer McGowan, Tuesday afternoon. She said that staff are busy monitoring the situation and paying attention to what recommendations are coming down from relevant authorities. “But also [trying] to ensure we can continue to provide essential surface services in the face of a significantly reduced workforce potentially.” McGowan said that she’s in contact with Vancouver Coastal Health on a regular basis.
BIM has restricted access to sites like the firehalls to preserve some sterility in those environments. All firefighting practices have been cancelled as to avoid bringing all the first responders together. “[The fire department is] securing additional personal protective equipment as they can and as it’s available to make sure we’re as well stocked as we can be,” said McGowan. “And then they’re adjusting their protocols on the advice of the authorities as it’s received.”
“We’re quickly working to ramp up or develop online service provisions so that we can do more online or over the phone and getting better at using lots of different types of technology [to] ensure that staff stay connected to each other and connected to council,” said McGowan. She said that several staff are affected by self-isolation and other staff who are choosing to work from home for various reasons.
McGowan bids islanders to heed the advice of health authorities and minimize contact as much as possible.