Big White Ski Resort fires staff over COVID-19 cluster | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Big White Ski Resort fires staff over COVID-19 cluster

The village at Big White Ski Resort is pictured in this undated photo.
Image Credit: Big White Ski Resort
December 16, 2020 - 3:12 PM

Big White Ski Resort has fired several employees following a cluster of COVID-19 cases related to social gathering on the mountain near Kelowna.

In a statement to the media, the ski resort said it has a zero-tolerance policy for staff members found breaching its policies around social gatherings and "to that end" has "let go some of our employees."

Yesterday, Dec. 15, Interior Health identified 60 cases of COVID-19 related to Big White, a number that is expected to grow as more people are tested. Most transmissions were related to shared housing and social gatherings.

Big White says that staff have to adhere to a Social Responsibility Contract and sign a Daily Health Declaration. Among many things the health declaration mandates staff sign that they have adhered to the government's rules relating to social gatherings at all times "both on and off duty."

READ MORE: More COVID-19 cases expected as testing continues at Big White

The Social Responsibility Agreement states non-compliance with company or government rules could lead to disciplinary action or termination.

Big White says its management is speaking to all staff about the COVID-19 cluster and getting staff to recommit, for the third time, to its Social Responsibility Contract.

In a media release, RCMP said due to the cluster of COVID-19 cases it will be increasing patrols of Big White due to the lack of compliance with provincial Public Health Orders.

"There is a unique situation occurring in the community of Big White. The RCMP will be there to assist the community in containing that situation and maintaining public safety," Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance said in the release. "While we certainly can, and will enforce the provisions available to us under the COVID Related Measures Act, we continue to encourage everyone to voluntarily comply with the provincial health orders, so enforcement is not required.”

Big White previously told that housed staff in previous years would share a room with up to four people, but this year each individual or couple got their own room. The company employs more than 600 employees making up around 55 per cent of all workers on the mountain. Just less than 25 per cent of these workers live in staff accommodation.

The ski resort said with direction from Interior Health, it is now in the process of securing housing for those affected by the COVID cluster to isolate in.

Both Interior Health and Big White are stressing it is still safe to travel to the mountain.

"The risk is low for families and individuals visiting Big White who stick to their immediate household bubble and avoid socializing and gathering with people outside their immediate bubble," says the release.

The origins of the COVID transmission appear to have taken place about two weeks ago, and came about after staff gathered for a party, Big White Ski Resort senior vice president Michael Ballingall told Dec. 15.

RCMP said organizers of events can face fines of $2,300 while failure to wear a mask indoors or abusive or belligerent behaviour can result in a fine of $230.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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