Revelstoke heli-skiing company: Client tests positive for COVID-19

An internal memo from a Revelstoke heli-skiing company says a client who skied with them from Mar. 8-11 has since tested positive for COVID-19.

File photo: Heliskiers board a helicopter.

A person visiting the Revelstoke area on a heliskiing trip in early March has since tested positive for a COVID-19 infection, according to a memo circulated to staff by the company.

The memo circulated by Revelstoke-based Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing to staff says that a guest who flew with the company from March 8-11 has since tested positive for COVID-19.

A source with knowledge of the situation has confirmed that this image of a Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing internal memo warning that a client had tested positive for COVID-19. Image: web

A source with inside knowledge has confirmed to the Mountaineer that the image of the memo circulating on social media is authentic.

“It is with sincere regret that we must inform you that we have made the decision to cease operations as of 6 p.m. PST on Monday March 16th,” the Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing memo states.”Today we received notification from a client who skied with us March 8-11 that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Based on this information, we immediately decided to close our doors.”

“Our first priority is to inform staff and clients are in the field with us today, followed by our clients that are booked for the remainder of the season — you!”

The Revelstoke Mountaineer first received a tip mid-day Saturday, March 14 about the case, from a source connected to someone who was self-isolating because they had contact with a heli-skiing company employee.

The Mountaineer has since received multiple tips from sources in the community, expressing concern that the public should be made aware.

A statement on a COVID-19 webpage on the STHS website notes the company is shutting down “due to concerns surrounding COVID-19” but does not state that a client was diagnosed with a case.

On Sunday, the Mountaineer reached out to Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing (STHS) for comment. Starting on Sunday evening, we have made multiple attempts to contact STHS via telephone and a web enquiry form.

UPDATE: Just before publication of this story on Tuesday, March 17 just after 11 a.m., a STHS spokesperson confirmed the facts of the case.

In a statement received just before publication, a spokesperson said the company was informed on Monday. “On March 16, 2020, Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing received notification from a client who had tested positive for COVID-19. This guest was skiing on a private group package with the company from March 8 until March 11, 2020. Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing plans to remain closed for the duration of the 2019.20 season. The offices will be closed until further notice,” she wrote.

The timing remains unclear. Sources with specific information about the case, such as details that those in contact with the heliskier were self-isolating, began contacting the Mountaineer on March 14. It’s unclear if it was then a suspected case and then became confirmed at a later date. A source with inside information told us the individual tested positive after visiting Revelstoke.

As a policy, when a new COVID-19 case is diagnosed, Interior Health does not disclose the community within the health region, citing patient confidentiality concerns. There were no new cases reported in Interior Health on Monday. There is presumably a lag between the time of testing and when results are recorded and reported.

Also, if the guest left the country and tested positive elsewhere, it may not show up on official statistics. In a response to a Mountaineer question about whether someone who was infected while in B.C. but since left the jurisdiction would be counted in official statistics. A Public Health Services Authority spokesperson said the provincial statistics only reflect confirmed cases within B.C.: “The Province of British Columbia provides information about confirmed cases of COVID-19 within B.C. only,” they wrote.

What remains unclear

The timing of the infection remains unclear. Was the person contagious when in Revelstoke?

It’s unclear whether the individual remains in Revelstoke or has since left the country.

It’s not known whether other staff or community members have been infected.

It’s not clear where the guest stayed.

It’s not known where the person visited while in Revelstoke, such as visiting restaurants or other public venues.

Context and analysis: societal norms changing fast with COVID-19

A week ago, growing COVID-19 concerns were still an undercurrent in Revelstoke, where life still went on, with hockey games, group classes, and school lessons proceeding as normal, when handshakes were still a thing. Since then, societal expectations have shifted dramatically to an intense focus on COVID-19 and public safety, let alone the world-changing events caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The result, a week later, is a new public mood where decisions are judged in a much harsher light. The information environment around COVID-19 infections is also very challenging; those in charge of the outbreak at the provincial level have fairly strict communications protocols in place in an attempt to centralize public information. They have also been overwhelmed with volume.  It remains unclear how that impacted this situation, such as orders from health officials to handle notifications according to procedure. A result is an often murky, unclear information environment around coronavirus. In the end, confirmation of a COVID-19 case in Revelstoke is relevant, newsworthy information for the public to interpret how it will.