A guest at Northern Escape Heli Skiing in Terrace has tested positive for COVID-19.
On March 22, the tourism company posted a press release regarding an American male guest of theirs, who although showed no symptoms during his stay from March 13 to 16 at Yellow Cedar Lodge, has confirmed positive for COVID-19 upon returning home to the United States.
“We’re trying to be a good corporate citizen and do our best for everyone by letting people know… I think it’s really important to understand that Terrace and our northern communities are not isolated from this pandemic,” says Northern Escape Heli Skiing president John Forrest, urging the public to take their warning seriously as there is a now a risk that the coronavirus is being carried throughout town.
“Tourism is a big part of our business here and the the possibility of infected people traveling to our communities, is probably quite a bit higher than people imagine… We have had lots of international guests and tourists come through our airports and into our towns.”
Forrest says Northern Escape immediately ceased operations at both of their operating lodges, Yellow Cedar Lodge and their remote Mountain Lodge, and evacuated all guests by 11 a.m. on March 16 as governments announced drastic measures.
They asked everyone to let them know if they developed any flu-like symptoms following their departure but it wasn’t until the night of Saturday, March 21 that directors were contacted by the middle-aged American man who informed them he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Working with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, all staff and guests, especially those who may have been in contact with the American man, have been notified and are being advised to self-quarantine immediately for 14 days. The American man appears to currently be in good health with only minor symptoms at this time.
“We have 50 to 60 staff working here over the winter and our main managers live here in town, so all of us have been self-isolating because we take this quite seriously,” Forrest says. “To the staff who don’t have a home to go, we have staff accommodations which we made available to them free of charge until the end of the month in order for them to self-quarantine.”
Forrest says they have been forced to lay off most of their workers with the exception of a small skeleton staff left working until the end of the season to sanitize and clean out all their lodges.
He adds many off their seasonal staff are worried as their summer contracts have been cancelled and have to reassess their plans. Managers continue to work from home but as 25 per cent of their heli skiing season has been cut short, those economical impacts will be greatly felt.
Alongside the layoffs, Forrest says he wanted to let the public know about this case at Northern Escape as he fears COVID-19 may already be evident in Terrace and the north.
“This is probably the first of many that are going to start to pop up here and I hope we’ve set the tone to help people feel more empowered to come forward because I believe [COVID-19] is far closer than anyone is giving it credit for,” Forrest says.
“My personal forecast is that this is probably going to last quite a bit longer than people are anticipating right now and it will likely get worst, so we’re doing our part to slow it down.”