The BC Search and Rescue Association is urging the public to take extreme caution if going into the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here search and rescue members practice ice rescue training in the Cariboo weeks before the virus showed up in B.C. (Photo submitted)

‘Now is not the time to bag that peak’: BCSAR manager discourages risky outdoor adventures

Call volumes are not going down, even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists

If heading into the outdoors, B.C. residents are being urged to be extra cautious due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now is not the time to bag that peak you’ve been looking at for the last two years,” said BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA) senior manager Dwight Yochim. “Wait until this is over and try that later.”

Call volumes across the province are not going down, despite provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s direction for people to stay home.

“The good news is it hasn’t gone up, but the bad news it hasn’t gone down,” Yochim told Black Press Media.

BCSARA is trying to get the message out to be careful, he added.

“We know going outside is good for your mental health, but stay around your municipality, stay close to home and local trails.”

Even if people are going on local trails, they should let someone know when they are leaving and when they have returned.

“If you twist an ankle, fair enough, but it’s not worth trying to push your limits,” he said.

When a SAR unit gets a call-out, then 20 or 30 people on a team who have been self-isolating now come together.

Read more: Central Cariboo Search and Rescue implements adaptive measures for COVID-19 response

“They still try to maintain their two metre distance, even on a search. When they approach the subject, they ask if they have a fever or a cough or if they’ve been exposed to someone who has.”

If they answer ‘yes’ then only a couple of team members will go in, put on gloves and special masks, and eye protection to interact with the subject.

Only a few members will check the subject over and everyone else on the team will stay away, he added.

“If we are lucky we can get them out fairly easily, but if we have to do a stretcher carry-out then we now have 12 people involved. Or if we put them into a helicopter, now we have to worry about the pilot and make sure the pilot is properly protected,” Yochim said.

It raises the risk for everyone if a subject is found to be COVID-19 positive, he said, noting it is not worth it right now.

There are 79 teams and 2,500 search and rescue volunteers in B.C. taking extra precautions as the pandemic persists.

“We’d rather the public take extra precautions as well,” Yochim said. “If we run out of personal protection equipment it’s going to delay searches because we will have to call in mutual aid. I’m sure the subject doesn’t want that or the public.”

Due to to pandemic, the federal and provincial governments have already closed access to many outdoor recreation trails and parks.

Read more: Parks Canada to close access to trails

Read more: Williams Lake ski trail, Chilcotin rec site among dozens in B.C. closed due to COVID-19

A current list of closures can be found on the Current Site Closures page of the RSTBC Website.



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