Communities across the world are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and our communities within the Elk Valley are no exception.
The latest closure in Elkford is the Elkford Emergency Department, which will be closed effective April 1 until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, according to Interior Health. The decision to close the emergency department was made based on ongoing staffing challenges.
“This change will help ensure stable emergency services for all people in the Elk Valley and was informed by pandemic planning work in the East Kootenay,” said a statement by Interior Health. Those needing medical services can visit the emergency departments in Sparwood or Fernie, or call 911 in the case of an emergency.
The District of Elkford is doing their best to handle the pandemic situation but the road has been a bumpy one. On March 17, the district issued a press release announcing the closure of all offices and facilities to the public. This closure included the District Office, the Community Conference Centre, the Recreation Centre, the Aquatic Centre, the Public Works Office and the Fire Hall.
On March 20, the district issued another release, noting that “the District of Elkford’s priority continues to be the health and safety of its employees and citizens.” In the press release, the district announced that they were collaborating with and supporting the Regional Emergency Operations Centre that was established by the Regional District of East Kootenay in order to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 27 saw the additional closure of all district owned parks and playgrounds. Recreational trails in the area still remain open at this time however.
Although the District of Elkford has clearly taken steps to protect their community amidst this international health crisis, the business community in the town is still struggling.
Shawna Bryant is the executive director of the Elkford Chamber of Commerce and is in a position to be uniquely tuned into the business community in Elkford. According to her, about 40 per cent of local businesses have had to shut their doors already.
“As of right now, of course all of the mandated businesses have shut down so all of our liquor run businesses or bars have completely shut down,” she explained. “All of our other restaurants have gone over to a delivery or a pickup system and a couple of them have actually decided to just close down completely because of lack of staff and not enough people coming in.”
Bryant added that over the past week or so, more businesses have slowly been closing their doors. Even though there hasn’t been an announcement in British Columbia for all non essential businesses to close down, Bryant said that many are shutting down anyways.
“Quite a few businesses have taken that protocol for the sake of the community and for their own staff,” she said.
Elkford’s two main business groups, home based businesses and industrial businesses, have been the hardest hit. Bryant noted that approximately 43 per cent of businesses in Elkford are home based and that they are really and truly feeling the effects of this economic slowdown.
“When talking with a lot of the home based businesses, a lot of them said they could maybe only go a couple of months and then they are done and they’re not sure if they’ll be able to come back again, which is really unfortunate and it’s a little scary,” Bryant said.
In this time of uncertainty, many businesses are reaching out to the chamber of commerce, looking for guidance. Bryant said that the biggest change they’ve noted at the chamber is an increase in people reaching out for resources.
Although many of the provincially and federally promised financial breaks for small businesses aren’t actually available yet, Bryant said that there are still things you can do to prepare.
“What we’re doing is helping all the businesses get the paperwork started so that way when everything is coming available, they are able to just submit right away.”
On top of helping with paperwork, the chamber is trying to provide live and up to date information on all resources that are available to businesses. That being said, there are still some huge problems that small businesses in Elkford might face.
“One of the biggest things that is frustrating within the business community is the fact that there’s low interest loans in large amounts available to businesses, however, [poeple] don’t want to go into debt without knowing what the unforeseen future looks like,” she explained.“To have a debt load going into an unstable economy, even as things rebuild, can be such a heavy load on them.”
Part of what is making this time so hard for small shops is that they have no idea what’s coming next. This makes it hard to plan for your business, but Bryant noted that planning is still a crucial step moving forward.
“The next best action is an action plan,” she said. “Sitting down to see what your financial means are going to be, what can be pushed through on limited staff, what the payouts will look like for staff and then going into a recession plan.”
Bryant hopes that people will start taking health authorities advice seriously and stay inside. That way, we can slow the contamination down and hopefully avoid a full blown recession that would very negatively impact businesses in Elkford.
Her message to everyone in town is that the chamber of commerce is there to help. She wants businesses to keep reaching out and asking for support.
“We’re just trying to get as much information out there as possible to help,” Bryant said. “Whether you’re a member or a non member, if you’re in Elkford, we’re just trying to help and have that community collective as best as possible.”