Port Renfrew battling with unwelcome visitors during COVID-19 crisis

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WatchAfter plenty of warning from officials, many are still heading out to remote Island areas for the long weekend. Port Renfrew says hundreds of cars are passing through their town everyday, and they worry that what they're carrying is COVID-19. Julian Kolsut has this story.

The small Vancouver Island community of Port Renfrew is in a battle with unwelcome visitors.

The province has urged people to stay in their communities during the COVID-19 crisis. But with the clear weather and long weekend, hundreds of cars are passing through town.

“What are you guys doing?,” said William Toulmin of the Port Renfrew Volunteer Fire Department as he watches motorcycles going through town.

“It’s very frustrating. You sit here in a 15 minute period and you can see dozens and dozens of vehicles going through here, that are clearly not locals. We have people with surfboards, mountain bikes, camping gear, boat trailers.”

The town is worried visitors  may be bringing COVID-19 with them.

“if you decide to come out and visit all the closed provincial parks and closed regional parks, and closed Port Renfrew and do have a vehicle mishap, now you are putting all of our first responders, everyone is being put at added risk. Because these travelers can be carrying it and be asymptomatic and not aware of it,” Toulmin added.

Many stores are outright refusing service to anyone who is not local.

“We have restricted services for the last 10 days to locals only,” said Mike Conlin, Pacheedaht First Nation – General Manager.

“We don’t have respirators, we don’t have medical other than our ambulance and first repsonders. It’s a long ways to the hospital. It’s all very remote so we can’t take a hit.”

On Thursday, there were plenty of day-drivers, and around a week ago there was a close call.

“A fella decided, he was not sick, decided to come out and accidentally rolled his car on the side of the road,” said Conlin.

“Our top ambulance attendants attended, all of our fire department attended. And it’s really hard to keep PPE on when you are crawling through a window to rescue someone.”

“You see when a normal flu happens here,” said Mariyah Dunn-Jones of the Pacheedaht First Nation.

“Everybody here gets it. Not one person but the whole community.”

Residents are trying very hard to dissuade people from coming in from out of town during the crisis, but it’s a tough move because much of the local economy relies on those visitors.

“We are a tourist community, we rely on the income during the summer, but right now during the pandemic we ask you please reconsider and stay home,” added Toulmin.

It’s an easy ask, avoid the drive and keep their community safe.

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