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Spring Break tourists have Tofino mayor worried about possible COVID-19 outbreaks

Last Updated Mar 26, 2021 at 6:10 pm PDT

(Courtesy Googlemaps)

Tofino's mayor is concerened about the impact Spring Break travellers may have on the community's COVID-19 case numbers

The Wickinnish Inn has remained closed voluntarily since November due to warning against non-essential travel

TOFINO (NEWS 1130) — Non-essential travellers ignoring public safety orders are top of mind for the newly sworn-in mayor of a popular destination spot on Vancouver Island.

Dan Law says he’s concerned people who live and work in Tofino are at risk of getting sick before they can be vaccinated against COVID-19 and he’s disappointed to hear visitors from other provinces are just showing up with nowhere to sleep but their cars.

“There’s people that just don’t get it. I’ve seen people walking in stores, not wearing masks, and I just really hope everybody thinks about the whole community,” Law said.

The retired registered nurse recently replaced Josie Osborne, who is now an NDP MLA for the area. Osborne also expressed concerns about unwelcome tourists when she was the mayor.

Law says people from other provinces have been crowding in during Spring Break. The nearest major hospital is in Port Alberni, while the hospital in Tofino only has 10 beds and five emergency room stretchers.

“We have a couple ambulances and a small hospital, so if somebody does get sick or injured, that takes an ambulance away from our community. So, it does concern me. We are a remote community. We have few services and, we are being very diligent as a district to keep the message that the province is putting out there to avoid non-essential travel, to stay local and that we are in a pandemic and just to follow the provincial guidelines as best as you can.”

Law adds Tofino is one of the communities already designated for full vaccination, so he’s asking tourists to hold off showing up before that happens, but he admits it may already be too late.

“The numbers in the province are growing, so we are as susceptible as we’ve ever been. It seems to me now is the time to be extra cautious and prudent,” he said.

“We’re funded on our population, so we’re funded for 2,000 people and that includes police and hospital and everything like that. So, when we have an influx of visitors, those services can become overwhelmed. Because we’re in a pandemic, all of those pressures are heightened, so are more visitors certainly showing up at the hospital and putting pressure on those services, for sure.”

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Law also tells NEWS 1130 he’s proud of Tofino’s business community for stepping up and doing what’s necessary to keep everyone safe, including the Wickinnish Inn voluntarily remaining closed since November when Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a directive against non-essential travel.

Managing Director Charles McDiarmid says it hasn’t been easy for the family-run operation because other hotels and resorts have chosen to stay open.

“We have had people coming on property saying, ‘Well, everyone else is open in Tofino? Why aren’t you?’ And we’re letting them know there is a strong recommendation against non-essential travel. I understand people are frustrated and it’s challenging, but this is a marathon. This isn’t a sprint and we want to give the vaccination program a chance to get ahead of the infection program, right? It’s a close race. We’re proud to be part of the solution. It’s challenging not to be open. Legally, we could. We won’t open until it’s safe for our staff, for our community, and for our guests, as well,” he said.

He says there’s hope they can re-open at some point in April after plans to vaccinate most people in Tofino are carried out. He hopes that will happen in the next couple of weeks.

“It might not be safe in Surrey by then or some other areas (of the Lower Mainland), but we continue to follow the direction of Dr. Bonnie Henry. So the reality is I would say 90 per cent of the travel to Tofino and the Wickinnish Inn is non-essential. We are a small town with limited medical resources and a very small hospital surrounded by a lot of First Nations communities, so from our perspective, this has been the right thing to do. It has become more difficult as more places have opened including Airbnb locations.”

He says Tofino is tremendously popular and his family has been part of the community since 1955, so they want to make sure everyone stays safe and it is frustrating to see other businesses not taking the same stance.

Related article: COVID-19 vaccinations in B.C.: What you need to know

McDiarmid tells NEWS 1130 they had a busy summer and had to cancel numerous bookings when the non-essential travel directive was issued, but he’s confident regular patrons will come back.

“Yes, we’ve had a number of guests — many, many, many — who have said, ‘We value and appreciate and recognize the stance you’re taking and we respect that. We can hardly wait to come. We’re only going to come and stay with you. We’re waiting for you to open,'” he said.

He adds people from other countries have been making reservations that keep getting pushed ahead every time border closures are extended. He hopes once tourists can prove they have been vaccinated, they will be allowed to enter Canada.