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Spike of visitors to Princeton-area stressing grocery supply chain and healthcare teams

An unseasonable influx of recreation property owners and out-of-town visitors is stressing Princeton’s food supply, and causing concern for local healthcare teams.

That’s according to Bob Coyne, Area H director with the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.

“We are really not set up to have this many people at this time of year,” said Coyne.

Despite urgings from the provincial health officer that people avoid non-essential travel and remain in their own communities, many vacation spots in the Princeton area have mushroomed in the past few weeks.

Coyne said it’s difficult to quantify how many people have moved into the area ahead of the traditional tourist season, but he believes the number is significant.

Multiple problems are created by the swell in rural populations, he said.

Shipment volumes to Princeton’s only grocery store are based on annual trends, he said.

With so many people now in the area, possibly hoping to wait out COVID-19, there is an increased demand for food and supplies.

Related: Princeton mayor urges calm amid fears of food and supply shortages

Moreover, Princeton’s health care officials are worried a virus outbreak here could overwhelm the town’s small hospital.

“If you are here and you get sick you are taking one of the beds…that’s the biggest concern,” he said.

“If this goes sideways it potentially would be very difficult for our health care teams.”

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne expressed frustration with the situation, as the problem is out of his jurisdiction and control.

He has fielded numerous complaints about parties being held in recreational communities.

Over the weekend, he received reports about large gatherings in Allison Lake and Tulameen, where some people are allegedly flouting the open burning ban implemented by the province.

Related: Some Princeton and area residents ignoring public health orders

There are not enough first responders to deal with the issues, Coyne added.

“I have contacted the province and asked for further policing for rural communities to deal with this exact thing.”

Jamie Caruso lives year-round in Tulameen, a community of about 200 permanent residents that often sees a population of 2,000 in the summer.

She said for the most part everyone is behaving responsibly.

“There was one (gathering) a couple weeks ago with loud music and a fire but they were all family.

“Other than that I haven’t heard or seen anything. People have been very respectful so far that I have seen.”

She says she doesn’t blame people from larger centres for wanting to be here.

“I don’t think there are a lot of rentals happening, just owners of cabins keeping to themselves.

“I believe it is safer here than it would be on the coast or (in other) Okanagan-Similkameen areas and don’t blame them myself.

“I would probably do the same thing.

“We have supplies and the Trading Post has been well stocked for all of us.”

Another permanent resident of Tulameen, Randy Halyk, said people are changing their behaviour.

“We have seen a difference on the street in the last week,” he said.

“Most walkers are physical distancing with only a few still not getting it.

“It seems that some are not taking this seriously with trucks loaded with snowmobiles or ATVs arriving quite frequently.”

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andrea.demeer@similkameenspotlight.com

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