The Hamptons Want a Travel Ban. Are They Onto Something?

Resort towns across the country fear more than just COVID-19

March 31, 2020 8:48 am
Aerial view of Montauk Point in East Hampton, Long Island, New York
What happens to year-round residents of resort towns when resources are gobbled up by out-of-towners?
Michael Orso/Getty

It feels like years ago, but it was only back in January when we waxed poetic about the quiet, timeless appeal of an off-season Hamptons weekend. It’s still the off-season, but two months later, as New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., wealthy residents began escaping to their second homes and vacation properties on the East End of Long Island. 

Needless to say, the resort town is no longer quiet.

It started off with what appeared to be relatively harmless, even quaint, anecdotes trickling out of the Hamptons. There were last hurrahs at bougie restaurants, then came the panic buying of Chablis and gourmet groceries, and now, local leaders are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to issue a travel ban to keep city residents away. 

First and foremost, the unprecedented request, which came from the East End Mayors and Supervisors Association, as Page Six reported, comes from a concern about the spread of the coronavirus from the city. As of Sunday, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Hamptons’s Suffolk County exceeded 5,000, and 40 people had died, according to RiverheadLOCAL. But that’s not the only worry. 

“People out here are concerned that our hospitals and supermarkets will not be able to meet the needed demand if our population continues to surge,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told Page Six.

This isn’t just happening in the Hamptons, either. Across the country, as out-of-towners flee to resort towns, looking for a more relaxing place to quarantine, they risk not only spreading COVID-19 but strangling local supplies and putting undue burden on remote medical facilities that aren’t equipped to handle a pandemic. 

“Each year we anticipate the return of our snowbirds with great appreciation, whether they are returning from down-state or out-of-state,” said James Janisse, village president of Elk Rapids on Lake Michigan, in a press release. “It is with mixed feelings and heavy heart, therefore, that I strongly encourage people to stay where they are. Our demographics are such that we have a very vulnerable population currently residing here.”

Janisse’s remorse is echoed in many of these communities that rely on the business of vacationers. But in those towns that have already seen an influx of newcomers, some business owners find themselves in a damned if they do, damned if they don’t situation.

At one market in the Brainerd Lakes Area of Minnesota, employee Lynn Hart told the Star Tribune they’ve been doing gangbusters summer-level business. While it’s a welcome financial boon in a town with a population just over 2,000, unusual buying surges like these could lead to shortages among year-round residents, especially as they stay home for fear of coming into contact with people leaving cities.

“I don’t know why they don’t stay home,” Hart added.

However, the responses differ wildly depending on the community. While the Hamptons seems extreme in asking for a travel ban, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell clarified to Page Six, “We are not trying to tell those who have summer homes to stay away, this is about the people who really have no attachment to the community.” 

Meanwhile in Petoskey, Michigan, Mayor John Murphy isn’t interested in turning people away just yet, but he is advising strict quarantines, as the Detroit Free Press reported.

“We kindly ask that seasonal residents returning to our community do the right thing and self-quarantine for at least 14 days,” Murphy said in a press release. “I’m confident that if everyone can abide by the requirements of social distancing and self-quarantine, we will get through this crisis. We are all in this together.”  

That sentiment, that we are all in this together, that Americans can overcome anything (with or without the help of the current administration), is one that has been repeated regularly over the last few weeks. But in at least one resort town, some are prioritizing the local “we” to the detriment of outsiders.

On Sunday, The New York Times detailed the disturbing case of Vinalhaven, an island off the coast of Maine, where local residents “cut down a tree and dragged it into the middle of a road in an attempt to forcibly quarantine” three people from out of state. They even cite one report directed to the sheriff’s office that the culprits were armed with guns. 

Of course, actual islands could potentially see faster depletion of resources, from food to consumer goods to medical supplies, than inland towns and rural communities, but that doesn’t even come close to justifying Lord of the Flies-level retaliation. Despite the risks associated with fleeing cities, as well as some restrictions on travel that have been put in place across the U.S., Maine’s Knox County Sheriff’s Office pulled no punches when reprimanding the locals.

“Whether someone is a Maine resident or not, they have the right to free movement and anyone who infringes upon that free movement is potentially violating the law.”

But just because it’s legal to skip town for a bungalow in Southampton doesn’t mean it’s ethical. 


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