But based on the number of out-of-state plates that have suddenly appeared in driveways and grocery store parking lots from Watch Hill, R.I., to Old Orchard Beach, Maine, you’d think that Memorial Day weekend was right around the corner.
In recent weeks, wealthy city dwellers hoping to escape the novel coronavirus have been fleeing to their second homes, exacerbating long-standing tensions between locals and summer residents. While those from out of town feel they have the right to use property they own and pay taxes on, year-round residents worry the new arrivals could be carrying the disease, and local hospitals aren’t equipped to handle an outbreak.
Last week, Facebook groups intended to connect Cape Cod residents devolved into embittered name-calling and demands to close the bridges to the mainland. Police in Block Island, R.I., reported receiving credible tips about residents threatening to destroy the island’s power transformers to discourage visitors. North Haven, a small island off the coast of Maine, voted to ban its own part-time residents.
From the Catskills to Wisconsin’s Door County, communities whose economies usually revolve around seasonal visitors are asking them to stay away. Over the weekend, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) urged people with cottages on the Jersey Shore to “stay at your primary residences,” while Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) warned that those with property on Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard should “stay on the mainland.”
Their concerns aren’t exactly unfounded. In Vermont, where ski towns have been “bustling at levels normally seen at peak times during winter holidays,” according to alt-weekly Seven Days, one of the first confirmed coronavirus cases was a man from Westchester County, N.Y., who fled to his vacation home in hopes of avoiding the virus. Within 24 hours of arriving, he had started to show symptoms.
Meanwhile, vacation destinations tend to lack the infrastructure to respond to a global pandemic. As The Washington Post’s Caroline Kitchener reported, Nantucket’s hospital was only built for basic care and typically brings in doctors from the mainland in the summer. It also only has three ventilators, and some residents have been alarmed by the sudden influx of private jets and BMWs from New York.
Last week, the hospital implored those who don’t live on the island full-time to stay away “to avoid a potentially dire scenario.” Lise King, a member of the Select Board in nearby Provincetown, Mass., went even further, telling her town’s seasonal residents that “coming here could be a death sentence for someone who gets gravely Ill.”
“Even if someone coming from the city hunkers down and follows guidelines, odds are they may already be infected and need care sooner rather than later,” she wrote on Thursday. “Hear this: we simply do not have the healthcare workers nor the hospital beds, nor the ventilators necessary.”
Still, for city residents facing the prospect of an extended lockdown, escaping to Shelter Island in New York or Boothbay Harbor in Maine has obvious appeal. Some communities are turning to drastic measures to keep them away.
The island of North Haven, Maine, which is home to roughly 355 year-round residents and only accessible by boat or plane, attempted to enact a similar travel ban earlier this month. Out of fear that people who own second homes on the island would show up and bring coronavirus with them, everyone except for full-time inhabitants and those deemed to be performing essential services was barred from coming ashore.
But some worried the order infringed on the rights of part-time property owners, and it was later rescinded by the town’s Select Board.
While elected officials try to figure out how to delicately maneuver a situation that could potentially pit the needs of longtime residents against wealthier summer visitors, old resentments have been resurfacing in groups with names like “OBX Locals.” People who own vacation houses point out their taxes help fund the schools and services that year-round residents rely on. But many locals aren’t exactly thrilled to share their town for three months out of the year, let alone during a global pandemic.
“We should blow up the bridges,” one lifelong resident of Montauk, N.Y., told the New York Post. “Don’t let them in.”
On the Jersey Shore, the “Cool Cape May” Facebook page had to be shut down because the bickering got so intense, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. But one Pennsylvania dad who chose to hunker down at his beach house wasn’t concerned.
As a surfer, Tom Reilly told the paper, “You get the brush off from locals. It’s the tribalism. People down here think it’s their water.” But when he needed a sweatshirt, the owner of a local surf shop met him to deliver it in person.
“Deep down inside, people will protect each other,” he said.