As a tourist and second-home destination, the Mount Washington Valley is particularly vulnerable to out-of-staters spreading COVID-19.
We’ve all seen it. Local supermarket parking lots are full of non-resident licenses plates. People from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York are up here to hunker down in their second homes or short-term rentals, and are emptying store shelves and overwhelming local pharmacies with prescription transfers.
In a March 25 New York Times story, “The Wealthy Flee Coronavirus. Vacation Towns Respond: Stay Away,” a Catskills Facebook poster was quoted as venting: “Just because you have a second home up here doesn’t mean you have the right to put us at risk.” In the Hamptons, it said, second-home owners are clearing stores of groceries. A mayor on the Jersey Shore told the newspaper, “We all love the summer people. They drive our economy. But ... the services here aren’t geared up for them.” The Massachusetts governor has told Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket summer people to stay off those islands.
Here in the valley, only a couple of people have tested positive for the virus. And in order to keep that number low, we encourage local town officials, business leaders — including chambers of commerce and Realtors — to echo Gov. Chris Sununu’s message when he requested that anyone from out of state to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Sanibel Island, a popular tourist destination in Florida, has closed down to all incoming tourist and second-home owner traffic. That’s too extreme for us, and too late.
In Randolph, near Gorham, Health Officer and physician John McDowell, with selectmen’s blessing, is reaching out to newly arriving second-home owners to strongly encourage them too self-quarantine. The town has mobilized a group of volunteers to deliver groceries to the temporary shut-ins.
An extreme example is Vinalhaven, Maine, where armed island residents reportedly cut down a tree last Friday to block access to a road in order to enforce a quarantine of out-of-staters. Meanwhile, Maine Gov. Janet Mills has advised people from out of state it makes no sense to come to Maine to avoid the virus as it is already there.
We certainly don’t want armed confrontations with out-of-staters. But the question remains: What can be done here at this late stage? Something is better than nothing, and at the very least, community leaders should echo the governor and tell our newly arrived out-of-state friends and neighbors that in order to protect our community, stay out of our stores until they know they are not carrying the virus.