Normally, the May long weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, as people flock to parks, cottages, and other getaways. This year, it will mark two months since British Columbia declared a provincial state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, with the state of emergency expected to remain in place for the “foreseeable future,” provincial and local officials continue to implore people to stay close to home.
Last month, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring led a group of more than 20 Vancouver Island mayors in requesting that the province ban non-essential travel on BC Ferries over the May long weekend. The province, however, opted against implementing restrictions. Earlier this week, BC Ferries, which is running ships at 50 per cent passenger capacity, urged people to avoid non- essential travel over the long weekend.
But by early Friday morning, the 7:45 a.m., 10:15 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. sailings from Tsawwassen to Duke Point (Nanaimo) were sold out, raising concerns that much of that traffic is unlikely to be essential. (The other ferry route from the mainland to Nanaimo, from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay, has been suspended since early April.)
How close to home is close enough?
While traveling between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island is clearly not staying close to home, there is no prescribed limit on how far away from home people can travel.
Even though many provincial parks have reopened, Siebring encourages people to only visit those that are near where you live. “There are lots of great opportunities to recreate in your own backyard.”
He gives an example. “If you live in Mill Bay, Shawnigan or Cowichan Station, by all means go to the Kinsol Trestle — but don’t go to Stoney Hill. If you live in Maple Bay, spend your time at Stoney Hill and don’t be heading down to the Kinsol Trestle.”
Shannon Waters, medical health officer with Island Health for the Cowichan region, says it’s important for everyone’s health that people stay close to home this weekend.
“We’re all trying to stay in our own communities at this point because what we don’t want to do is spread things between communities,” she says. “It’s not because we are trying to be punitive; it’s because we are still in a pandemic. And we’re at the phase where physical distancing is still a very important aspect of how we’re keeping our health-care system from being overwhelmed.”
Long drives for fast drives: not recommended
Early this week, some local residents reached out to health officials and politicians over concerns that Speed Fanatics, a Mission, B.C.-based car racing group, had a sold-out event planned this Saturday at the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) in North Cowichan.
By Wednesday, the Speed Fanatics had updated their website to indicate that the event was cancelled. But according to an email from the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit to a local resident sent on Wednesday, the facility still planned to welcome Vancouver Island-based members of the Speed Fanatics group.
Although VIMC is the only track of its kind on the Island, Siebring says going there does not constitute essential travel. He says his message to members of Speed Fanatics who aren’t local is the same as it for anyone from outside the region: “Stay as close to home as possible. And if you’re from [for example] Campbell River, you might want to reconsider coming down to the Cowichan Valley because that’s not as close to home as possible.”
According to a Facebook post by Siebring on Friday morning, Island Health has advised VIMC not to proceed with any event, and not to encourage unnecessary travel on the long weekend, although it’s not a binding order. RCMP has told Siebring that they will “keep an eye on the area” this weekend, according to the post.
The Discourse Cowichan reached out to VIMC on Friday morning, but was not able to immediately reach someone for comment.
Siebring, Waters and other Cowichan leaders put together this video thanking people for staying close to home on the Easter long weekend. A similar video for the May long weekend is expected to be posted soon. The message, Waters says, is “thanking everyone for continuing to do the work of staying close to home.”