The temporary migrant work camp that was created this past summer to accommodate visiting cherry pickers and to shield the community from the threat of COVID-19 has wrapped up for the year.
Located at the Kozy RV Campground on Highway 3 in Erickson, the camp was developed in July by the Creston Valley-Kootenay Lake Economic Action Partnership (EAP) and provided accommodations for up to 50 temporary workers during the cherry-picking season before closing in mid-August.
According to Aaron Gregory, the EAP’s community economic development coordinator, the camp acted as a transient shelter for workers who were looking for work and for those who were already in-between jobs.
“A lot of times, people come to the valley and they usually have to stay in unsafe areas. We set this up for people who need accommodations,” said Gregory.
Many workers came from Quebec, and the camp saw around 30 to 40 workers coming and going throughout its month-long operation, Gregory added.
“We are fortunate that we did not have any COVID-19 at the camp or the orchards this summer,” said Gregory. “We had all of our isolation plans in place and were prepared to deal with the situation but we didn’t have to utilize our isolation plans this year which kept the community safe.”
Hand sanitizing stations were set-up throughout the camp, and grounds were regularly being cleaned by staff members multiple times a day.
Camp supervisors were also on-site to sign in workers and to carry out COVID-19 screenings if needed. Emergency plans were put in place to move any campers who showed symptoms of COVID-19 to a separate location, where they could safely isolate for two weeks.
Shortly after the camp opened, rumours floating around online about temporary workers spreading COVID-19 in town were quickly debunked by the Creston Valley Hospital’s chief of staff.
“Recently, rumours about a COVID-19 outbreak has made the rounds on social media. Many of you have found these rumours convincing, and I’m hoping that this post will help clear up any confusion,” said Dr. Nerine Kleinhans. “As of 8 a.m., Aug. 6, not one seasonal worker in Creston has tested positive for COVID-19.”
Gregory credited close collaboration with industry partners such as Interior Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Regional District of Central Kootenay, Fields Forward and the Lower Kootenay Band to the camp’s success in staying free of COVID-19.
“It’s not just one partner that can solve these problems. It takes everyone to work together,” he said. “For next season, we want to work with each other earlier in the spring to prepare for Summer 2021, because we don’t know about COVID and it’s likely it will still be around.”
Next year’s challenge, he said, is navigating the unpredictability that comes with COVID-19.
“We don’t know if it’s gonna get worse. The biggest challenge is pandemic fatigue because this pandemic is new and traumatic for a lot of people,” he said. “I think next year, it might be more difficult to hold that discipline and vigilance. It has been a lot for everybody.”
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