Article Originally Published on Cortes Currents; Audio belongs to CKTZ

More people participated. At its peak, seventy listeners connected to the conference by computer or phone and an unknown number listened to the radio broadcast. Yet Cortes Island’s first virtual town hall meeting was essentially a continuation of the recent online conferences Regional Director Noba Anderson has been having with local businesses and organizations. 

Unedited Audio from Tuesday March 31, 2020 Cortes Town Hall Meeting

Was The Meeting ‘Legitimate’?

Some, like a recent poster to the Tideline, question the legitimacy of such assemblies, “ This is not an official body and it is not authorized to speak on behalf of the community …”

They are missing the point. Director Anderson is attempting to mobilize the community and is asking for our input. These online conferences are not an expression of the proposed ‘Cortes Assembly Experiment.’ They are a response to the COVID-19 crises and, given Anderson’s involvement, unlike any of the local government models we studied. The businesses, organizations and individuals that speak at these meetings represent themselves. Everyone on Cortes Island was invited to the virtual town hall meeting, even the people who oppose it. Director Anderson was not required to listen, but chose to do so, and these online assemblies possess no authority beyond what she chooses to give them. 

What this will mean for the future of Cortes Island remains to be seen.

Cortes Island’s first virtual town hall meeting

Clarification Re Off-Island Trips 

Half of the meeting seemed to consist of bringing the influx of new participants up to speed. Most of this came through the reports from various sectors of the community, however Director Anderson made a clarification: 

“The second meeting was about getting some coordinated messaging to me around what our message is to travellers: off island folks or people here who are travelling off-island. I put that out a few days ago and, admittedly, have had some push back around suggestions that we are hearing federally … There are no restrictions on ferries, but we are asking for only essential travel at this time,” said Director Anderson.   

To which  Bertha Jeffery, owner of the Cortes Market, later added, “I am disappointed in the number of people leaving Cortes island to shop. That is certainly not essential traffic in my mind, as most things can be purchased on the island.”

How Long Will The Crises Last?

“Some of the changes that we are making are the new way that things will be done. I don’t think that this [crises] is a one month, or two month or three month thing. I think we are dealing with about a year and a half and these changes will need to be in place in order for us to operate,” said Bill Dougan, manager of Gorge Harbour Marina.  

Food Bank

The Cortes food bank is purchasing bulk supplies and more than $4,000 was raised at the online conference to assist with this. Anyone wishing to contribute to this effort should make their cheques out to the SCCA and write ‘food bank’ in the subject line. You can also phone Samantha Statton at 250- 935-0276 or email Cortescovidfood@gmail.com

The Gorge Store

Dougan reported that some sick people shop at the Gorge Harbour store. 

“This is an issue that really is paramount. If I get sick, Tammy gets sick or any of our staff in any of [the island’s stores] get sick, we’re out for two weeks … So we are asking people who are sick not to come into the store. We can pack your groceries and have a place to put them outside the door.” 

Staff are now wearing cloth masks at all times and only five customers are allowed inside the store at a time.

He added, “we’ve opened up the shared garden at Trude’s cafe. There have been four or five people working there pretty diligently.”

Cortes Island’s first virtual town hall meeting
Gorge Market – Roy L Hales photo

The Cortes Market 

Thanks to recent hirings, the Cortes Market is able to keep up with the increased volume of business and is no longer considering closing one day a week

“We are continuing business as usual … We have an hour on Monday mornings for the seniors to shop and they are allowed in the store one at a time for their safety. We are also limiting the number of people in the store when it gets really busy,” said Jeffery.

She reported changes in what people shop for, “We are having a hard stocking some things, like flour … Toilet paper is not a problem. We’ve gotten word that yeast and that sort of stuff might be in short supply in the future, and we are trying to stock up now while we have a chance. Apparently condoms are also going to be in short supply, so they are being ordered. We don’t want a bunch of new babies in nine months.” 

Squirrel Cove Store

Squirrel Cove General Store was not asked to report, but owner/manager Curt Cunningham informed me: 

“Obviously we are doing as much cleaning as we can. We allow three people in the store at a time. They have been excellent as far as social distancing, helping each other and being patient.  

“I do not see any issues with the suppliers. I’m finding that the distributors are getting better stocked. We are trying to buy our produce in packages rather than have it loose. We’re increasing all of our frozen vegetables, fruits etc. We have a big order of meat coming in Thursday: chicken, steaks, etc. We’ve got a good supply of frozen meats, pizzas and easy to prepare things as well. We have lots of eggs and a good supply of milk.” 

Funding For Home Deliveries 

Shaun Koopman, Emergency Services Coordinator for the Strathcona Regional District (SRD), said, “I have put in a proposal to Emergency Management BC (EMBC) that would allow local organizations across the Regional District to submit a letter of intent to receive sustainable long term funding to receive grocery, pet food and prescription refill deliveries. [This is] to cover the cost for senior and vulnerable populations. I was hoping that would be approved today, unfortunately it is still sitting on the desk at EMBC, but I did work with my colleague at EMBC to put that program together, so I am optimistic that it is going to be approved.”

Other Government Resources

“For general discussion of Cortes CV-19 response, including economics, visit the Resilient Cortes forum. A directory of local resources is at CortesHelps.com, and there is also a special COVID-19 section on Tideline.” – Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA)

 CCEDA also asks that people ”email them”  with any questions or comments!

Hollyhock

In a yet to be published interview, I learned that Hollyhock employs close to 10% of Cortes Island’s adult population during its’ peak season (July/August). 

This is only the beginning of April, but at last night’s meeting Campus Director Andrea Fisher informed us:

“Hollyhock has about 40 island locals who live here and were expecting to come back to work for this season and now we are postponing those positions. We are supporting EI applications and are looking into other options for emergency support.

“One of those initiatives includes our garden. Our garden is fully staffed … We’ve increased our food production. Where we normally plant about 500 annuals, so that we have flowers for the season, we are seeding with vegetables instead We want to provide fresh produce for our entire staff as well as other locals..  ” 

Hollyhock is currently hoping to open in the beginning of June, and will reassess this decision when they are 30 days out. 

Families, Children & Youth

“Spring break began only two weeks ago and so really it is only in this last week that many of the students would have come back to school. I think the overall message that we are saying – and I represent people who run programming, other educators who work with children – is these days that we are recommended to self isolate are an opportunity to increase our quality family time. Get out and connect with nature, which we can do so easily on Cortes. This meets the physical, emotional and creative needs of our children,” said Christine Robinson.

Suggested people and organizations :

Kw’as Trail walk – Roy L Hales photo

Health Care Providers

“As to who is being swabbed right now, this is guided by Public Health. It is not the decision of one clinic or one doctor. Unfortunately there are not sufficient resources to swab the number of people that ideally most of us would like. Right now we are not able to swab community cases. People who are being swabbed are either working directly with health care or sick enough that they will require hospitalization,” Dr Stephanie Bentzon 

She reiterated the fact that most of the Cortes Health Clinic’s appointments are now conducted by video or phone. 

“We are still doing urgent blood work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but we are delaying all non essential labs and investigations.”  

Bernice McGowan of Island Health spoke for Augmented Home SupportSeniors Helping Seniors, “This week we started reaching out by phone to various people who we’ve identified as possibly needing extra support at this time.” 

To which she added, “People are welcome to contact me by email for a confidential discussion about whether any of the programs I am connected to can offer help.” 

Mental Health

“At this time there are many people who are even more stressed than they usually are, so I just wanted you to know there are hotlines that you can call at any time,” said Donna Dryer, a transpersonal psychiatrist in private practice on Cortes, Quadra and Vancouver Islands.

Some resources

Q & A – Internet Access

Only 20 minutes remained by the time the public was allowed to respond by typing into Zoom’s Chat feature. 

“As we move more into living online, what can be done to make the internet more accessible to low-income people with hardware and internet service providers,” wrote Jenn Ruth Wilson.

She submitted some links:

The Cortes Market responded to the request for internet access: “We have free internet and computer for anyone to use.”