Interior Health’s Environmental Public Health department has provided guidance to this site and will continue to monitor operations like this to ensure they are providing a safe environment for their patrons.
See note from Publisher at the bottom of this story
By ROY WOOD
The Loose Bay campground is emerging as a major focus in the battle against Covid-19 as the first wave of itinerant fruit pickers begins showing up in the South Okanagan.
Local residents have expressed concerns about the numbers of pickers from across Canada, particularly from Quebec, who have tended to congregate in parks and other public areas, possibly in contravention of social distancing and gathering-size regulations.
Loose Bay has for decades offered a temporary home for the nomadic workers who gather in the South Okanagan each spring and summer to work in the orchards picking cherries, peaches, apples and more.
Operators of Loose Bay are working to get the camp open on time and with safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Several of the initiatives are aimed at encouraging the back-packing workers to stay at the camp and not congregate in town.
The camp usually opens May 1 with a few tenters. The average population is around 50 through the spring and summer, but can grow to as many as 300 at the peak of the cherry harvest in June.
The camp is located just north of Oliver near Covert Farms, on land licensed to the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS). It’s operated by the Loose Bay Campground Society.
Oliver Councillor Petra Veintimilla says she recently took a tour: “It’s actually big and it’s beautiful. It’s a gorgeous campsite.”
Society chair Allan Patton said in a recent interview the influx of pickers that will occur over the next several weeks presents a particular challenge this year because of the Covid-19 crisis and widespread fears of infection.
“The priority right now is an audit or risk assessment” of the facility with a view to “develop a plan around protocols and practices that will keep the campers, the staff and the public safe,” he said.
Patton said he is leaning toward a non-government expert with Covid-19 experience, since direct help from provincial agencies isn’t available. AgSafe BC is concerned with safety conditions on farms and WorkSafeBC deals with actual workplaces. “Loose Bay is neither. We’re a campsite.” Apparently, the Interior Health Authority has also indicated an unwillingness to participate in an audit.
The camp currently offers washroom and shower facilities. Patton is hoping to add two more services: laundry and internet access, both of which would help limit reasons for pickers to travel to and gather in Oliver.
Veintimilla said in an interview she is checking with the laundromat in Oliver about their plans. But she added that having the ability to do laundry at Loose Bay would be “a way to keep large groups from getting together downtown.”
Access to the internet has traditionally pulled campers to town to use Wi-Fi at places like Lions Park and the regional library.
Patton said he believes there is a fibreoptic cable in the area of the camp. He hopes that some help from local government might facilitate getting Wi-Fi to the site.
Said Veintimilla: “There is internet (next door) at Covert Farms, so it doesn’t make sense that Loose Bay wouldn’t be able to get it.”
Patton said he hopes that this year the camp will be essentially for pickers only. “We don’t want to subsidize people just looking for a cheap place to camp.”
His goal is to make the camp quieter, particularly in the evenings, and more comfortable for pickers who have to go to work in the morning.
RDOS community services manager Mark Woods said in an interview that the regional district is trying to “support the society as best we can.”
He said they are gathering resources such as signage and orientation templates “for individuals as they come into the facility, to make sure they are educated as to what’s required of them if they’re going to live there for any duration.”
Woods did his best to squelch a rumour that has been circulating that the Interior Health Authority won’t allow Loose Bay to open this spring.
“Interior Health is really the primary … authority, if you will, from a health perspective, and we’re absolutely leaning on them too help us … on a day-to-day basis with regard to Covid-19,” he said.
“So, it goes without saying that we’re talking to them regularly. This camp is really part of that conversation.”
Woods added that the RDOS is hoping to develop a more formalized communications plan in collaboration with the society. “Clearly, everybody in the South Okanagan is very aware of the facility and … has a vested interest with the fact the number of out-of-town folks is going to grow.”
A number of people circulating a govt link to a document pro-ported to about Loose Bay.
It is not – it refers to Silvaculture growers etc. and workers that might live on site with the plants.
It also talks to the fact that it seeks to control ONE employer in any action, report or complaint
Loose Bay is a campsite – in past years many people stay there. Those people do NOT work for one orchard. This year likely only the cherry pickers not visitors from Victoria will be welcomed.
If any person would like that link I will compile an email list for distribution. To minimize my workload I will accept emails at email@example.com from growers, orchardists, and farmers that I know and they can return the favour by sending the link to 10 others they know.