COVID-19

The Capital’s Guide to Navigating COVID-19 Victoria

Current as of March 18: What’s open, what’s not and why you absolutely should not visit grandma

By The Capital Staff
March 15, 2020
COVID-19

The Capital’s Guide to Navigating COVID-19 Victoria

Current as of March 18: What’s open, what’s not and why you absolutely should not visit grandma

COVID-19

The Capital’s Guide to Navigating COVID-19 Victoria

Current as of March 18: What’s open, what’s not and why you absolutely should not visit grandma

By The Capital Staff
March 15, 2020
The Capital’s Guide to Navigating COVID-19 Victoria
In this still from a March 16 Province of BC video, health minister Adrian Dix explicitly warns residents of Washington State to stay away from BC.

The information below is current as of March 18, 2020.

As Greater Victoria joins the rest of the world in one of the most unprecedented shutdowns of modern times, check out our guide to what’s open, what’s closed, and how best to navigate a city bracing for the full-scale arrival of COVID-19. Read more at The Capital.  

First, the basics

The BC Ministry of Health has launched an online self-assessment tool to determine if you require testing or medical care as a result of COVID-19. 

The Ministry of Health and the BC Centre for Disease Control are advising all British Columbians to avoid travel as much as possible, to practice social distancing (such as eschewing handshakes), to telecommute and to practice at least 14 days self-isolation if showing any symptoms consistent with the virus.

This isn’t so much for your own protection, but to slow the spread of the virus and limit the number of vulnerable people it will be able to infect. As The Capital has previously noted, an unchecked outbreak of COVID-19 would be particularly catastrophic in Victoria given the combination of a disproportionately old and sick population, paired with a healthcare system that is already operating beyond capacity.

Retail and hospitality

Grocery stores are still operating normally, with many experiencing unprecedented sales volumes. The following have enacted special hours exclusively for people who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 to allow them to shop with minimal risk of infection (click links for details):

     Shopper's Drug Mart
     Red Barn Market
     Quality Foods
     Country Grocer

All bars in BC have been ordered closed, as have any restaurants unable to put enough space between patrons. By order of provincial health officer Bonnie Henry, any establishment with a “liquor primary” license has been ordered closed, which has effectively shuttered the province’s bars, pubs and nightclubs. Restaurants can remain open if they can prove that they’re able to put at least two meters between patrons. If not, they’ll be forced to transition to a take-out and delivery model. Premier John Horgan has promised a package of economic relief measures to be unveiled in the coming days.

Healthcare

Elective surgeries and dental work have been phased out as hospitals brace for impact. On Monday, the provincial government announced a suite of emergency measures designed to bolster the healthcare system against an expected explosion in new cases. This has included ordering hospitals to cancel all non-urgent and non-emergency care. Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital has also become the first in the province to transition to what’s known as “Outbreak Response Phase 3,” meaning they are turning away everybody except emergency patients. Island Health has also enacted visitor restrictions

Island Health has set up a referral-only COVID-19 screening clinic in Victoria and plans to soon add more in other parts of the Island including Nanaimo and Campbell River. Testing is available to people referred by their primary care provider or by a HealthLinkBC evaluator after dialing 811 to be assessed.

Many Vancouver Island care homes have entered varying states of lockdown, with visitors discouraged and incoming staff screened for any symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Berwick House Royal Oak, for one, is requiring residents to self-isolate for 14 days if they’ve returned from travel. Atria Retirement, which operates three homes on Vancouver Island, is only allowing access to “essential visitors” and noted that they have a stockpile of 118,000 protective gowns and 2,500 N95 masks should the worst occur.

Island Health has enacted new visitor restrictions. While more amenable visitation rules for dying patients can be arranged, only one adult per patient is now allowed in hospital emergency departments. 

Government and civic life

Select Governments and representatives across the region are acting to provide online alternatives to public meetings. Colwood has cancelled all council meetings and is working on technology to allow councillors themselves to attend remotely. Victoria MP Laurel Collins announced Friday she is now meeting all constituents via phone or teleconference.

Group tours of the BC Parliament Buildings have been suspended, although visitors can still roam the facility on a self-guided tour. The BC Legislature remains scheduled to resume sitting on March 23, although given the example of other Canadian parliaments, this could change. On Friday, after the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tested positive for COVID-19, Canada’s federal parliament adjourned until at least April 20 and suspended all Parliament Hill functions and visitation.

Victoria has officially requested a byelection postponement from the province. If the request is successful the voting date will be moved off of April 4th and remain in limbo until the emergency subsides. Island Health's Chief Medical Health Officer recommended the postponement on Monday. 

Victoria Police has asked the public to avoid their front counter to keep from getting officers sick. “As part of our efforts to ensure we are able to maintain operational readiness during the COVID-19 pandemic we are asking members of the public to utilize our non-emergency line, or, where possible, report incidents online,” the department said in a statement

Victoria homeless services are closing non-essential facilities. The Our Place shelter has closed drop-in facilities such as their courtyard and computer lab, while still offering shelter spaces and three-meal-a-day food service. CoolAid has similarly shut down its dental clinic, its Downtown Community Centre and various drop-in programs. 

Utilities

A whole lot of British Columbians are going to be taking an economic hit due to COVID-19, prompting BC Hydro to roll out a COVID-19 Customer Assistance Program offering flexible bill payments for those affected.  

Schools

BC’s K-12 schools are closed indefinitely. School districts have now been tasked with figuring out a way to continue instruction remotely. In a statement, the Ministry of Education assured students “every student will receive a final mark, and all students on track to move to the next grade will do so in the fall.” In addition, all grade 12 students can expect to graduate if eligible.

Greater Victoria’s private schools were much quicker to shut their doors due to COVID-19 concerns. Glenlyon Norfolk closed both of its campuses on March 9 due to concerns that one of their students or staff might have been infected with COVID-19 (tests later came back negative). On Friday, St. Michael’s University School enacted an early closure of the school for Spring Break in response to COVID-19.  

The University of Victoria is suspending classes in favour of an all-online model. In a statement, however, the university wrote that it “remains open,” with everything from student residences to libraries to laboratories operating normally. Camosun College is also transitioning its classes online for the length of the pandemic, although plans won’t be in place until at least March 20th.

Royal Roads University has moved all classes online as of March 17, while Vancouver Island University has suspended all sanctioned international travel and closed select on-campus venues such as the Milner Gardens and Woodland. North Island College will shift to online instruction by the end of the school week.

International students are appealing for aid. Victoria’s many international students are appealing for federal and provincial aid after many have lost their jobs in the service sector while simultaneously being trapped by border closures.  “We are suffering the same misfortune as everyone in the country but we feel very much alone,” reads a petition on behalf of BC’s 155,000 international students.

Recreation

As of Saturday, Langford has effectively shut down all municipal recreational facilities for at least 30 days. Both the North Langford Recreation Centre and City Centre Park are covered by the shutdown. Together, the facilities contain the community’s primary swimming, skating and bowling facilities. While there have been no confirmed Langford cases of COVID-19, the municipality wrote in a statement that they “decided it is in the public’s interest to limit unnecessary exposure by taking a proactive and preventative approach.”

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Victoria, Saanich and Nanaimo, among others, similarly shuttered their rec centres on Monday. Victoria’s three YMCA facilities have also closed. While the charity is still operating housing services, all childcare, fitness and other programs at the Y are cancelled. 

The Mount Washington Alpine Resort is closing for the season. The resort had previously planned to stay open, citing skiing as one of the few low-contact activities still available to the public. 

In a statement announcing shutdown, the Royal BC Museum directed the public to its virtual collections as a substitute. Craigdarroch Castle has similarly shut its doors

All 12 branches of the Greater Victoria Public Library are now closed until further notice. Patrons with borrowed library books are asked to hold onto them until the system reopens, and late fines will not accumulate during the closure. The library urged Victorians to take advantage of their extensive online materials during the shutdown. 

Most movie theatres now closed for the rest of the month. In a statement, Cineplex announced their cinemas, including three in Greater Victoria, will remain shuttered until at least April 2. Landmark has announced a similar suspension

While Beacon Hill Park remains an ideal place to get out in public while still practicing safe social distancing, the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm was closed starting Thursday until the COVID-19 risk has passed. In a statement, staff emphasized that there has been no “contamination” at the farm, but that the closure was a proactive measure to prevent the spread of the virus to both visitors and the animals themselves.

The Royal BC Museum has cancelled a myriad of public events, tours and anything else that might prompt congregations of people. However, the museum remains open, albeit subject to stricter sanitization measures.

Transportation

The Government of Canada has banned the arrival of cruise ships carrying more than 500 people until at least July 1. This has wiped out the first three months of Victoria’s cruise season, which was previously scheduled to rank as the busiest in the city’s history. In a feature last week, The Capital laid out all the reasons why cruise arrivals could severely compromise efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Victoria.

BC Ferries remain operational, but they have closed the Pacific Buffet and has amped up sanitization at its terminals and aboard its vessels, taking special emphasis to constantly disinfect “touch points” such as tables, elevator buttons, pin pads and door handles. The ferry corporation has also cancelled certain sailings in anticipation of reduced traffic. Transport Canada has also enacted emergency measures allowing ferry passengers to stay in their vehicles throughout a sailing.

The Clipper has suspended sailings after the Province of BC openly called for residents of Washington State to avoid British Columbia. The MV Coho is still sailing, but is barred by Transport Canada from carrying more than 500 passengers. In addition, the ship is actively warning away any travellers on “non-essential” business. “Our travelers today are our friends and family members returning home, not tourists,” read a statement from the vessel’s operators.

Sports, Performing Arts

All gatherings of more than 50 people are now banned in the Province of BC. This has cancelled or postponed virtually all cultural and performing arts events in the province. Below is a partial list of confirmed cancellations.

The Canadian Men’s National Soccer Team was scheduled to play Trinidad and Tobago at Westhills Stadium on 27 March and 31. These matches, along with all other sanctioned Canada Soccer matches expected over the next 30 days, were cancelled Friday.  The Canadian Premier League has also shut down all pre-season training and events, which has affected Pacific FC.

The WHL has postponed its 2019/2020 season, resulting in the suspension of all Victoria Royals games and events.

Capital City Comic Con, scheduled for March 20 to 22, has been postponed. This is in part due to new Screen Actor’s Guild guidelines that restrict international travel for members, which would have affected the event’s celebrity guests.

A March 31 event at the Save on Foods Memorial Centre featuring Michelle Obama has been postponed.   

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