‘It’s restored my faith in humanity’: How Bowen reacted to two businesses' COVID cases

Bowen Island Kayak Shop and Branch on Bowen each had an employee test positive for COVID-19 last week. While both chose to disclose their situations to the community, neither was required to by health authorities

It was a stressful leadup to the Labour Day weekend for two Bowen businesses. 

Bowen Island Kayak Shop and Branch on Bowen each had an employee test positive for COVID-19 last week. While both chose to disclose their situations to the community, neither was required to by health authorities (a list of public exposures in our region is at vch.ca/covid-19/public-exposures).

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So what happens when an employee tells you they have COVID-19? 

Britt Yu at Branch (the taco and ice cream shop) called the health board as soon as she found out her employee had tested positive Friday morning. “From there they interview you and staff and ask about what your protocols are,” said Yu. She and her staff were interviewed about masks, sanitization, proximity of staff to one another and then Yu had to wait for health authorities to determine the level of risk to the public and the staff.

“It’s a very long day, waiting and phone calls and stress,” she said. “When Vancouver Coastal Health phoned us back, they deemed us no risk to the public.”

“When it’s no risk to the public, they tell you you don’t have to announce it publicly,” said Yu. “Which I find surprising.” 

But Yu’s glad she did tell the island what was happening. “We live in a really small community and I think it’s important that everyone feels protected and feel safe,” she said. “I just thought it was the right thing to do.”

And Yu’s found nothing but support from the broader Bowen community since the news came out. “It’s pretty terrifying to have to come out to an entire community and say that someone who works in your establishment has tested positive for COVID,” said Yu. “It’s probably one of the scariest hardest, most stressful things I’ve ever done. 

“But the community has been so lovely and supportive.

 “I’ve had messages from strangers, well wishes and I had people offered a scoop ice cream for me. 

“It’s been really heartwarming and incredible and honestly, it’s restored my faith in humanity.”

While Branch has reopened after a deep clean, Yu and several other staff are in isolation, having worked with the person who tested positive. The eatery will likely just be open weekends for the next couple of weeks until staff can get back to work. 

Brent O’Malley, owner of the Kayak Shop, found out Thursday that a part-time employee had tested positive. 

“I actually did hear from Vancouver Coastal Health that I didn’t need to declare to the general public that that had happened,” said O’Malley. “However, I felt, Bowen being Bowen, word was going to get out. And so I wanted to stay ahead of the curve.”

“[And] I obviously care about what happens on the on the island…it was important to just let everybody know,” he said. 

O’Malley shut down his business for about a day and a half while assessing everything and he contacted everyone who had bookings for the coming weekend––the Labour Day long weekend––to tell them what happened and offer refunds if they felt uncomfortable coming. 

“I probably had about 25 or 30 per cent of the people coming cancel, including some big tours,” said O’Malley. 

While the ordeal was stressful, he said that there’s been zero blowback from the community. “Everybody who I have notified about this has been extremely supportive and said ‘Thank you very much for your transparency, we really appreciate this,’” said O’Malley. “I’ve actually gotten some nice reviews on Google.”

“People have been really nice about the fact that I was being open with them and allowing them to make informed decisions,” he said. “It was pretty stressful, but I’m glad it’s pretty much over,” said O’Malley. 

While he has three guides in isolation, this also happened near the end of the kayaking season, “Which is also super, super fortunate,” said O’Malley. 

Meanwhile, both employees who tested positive appear to be ok. 

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