An online petition is calling on officials to close the bridges to Cape Cod to thwart out-of-state traffic and seasonal residents from heading to their second homes as COVID-19 spreads.
“While we love our tourists and summer residents this is not the time to come to the Cape, (our) hospital can’t handle it,” says the petition, which had garnered over 6,000 signatures on Change.org by Tuesday afternoon.
The plea says the bridges should be reserved for use by only the Cape’s 214,000 year-round residents, medical personnel, and for traffic delivering essential supplies.
The call is similar to those from locals residing in other popular summer destinations around Massachusetts, with communities from the Berkshires to Nantucket concerned about how an influx of the usually seasonal crowd coming to shelter in place could tax hospitals and other resources during the coronavirus pandemic.
But Judith MacLeod Froman, chairwoman of the Bourne Board of Selectmen, told Boston.com Tuesday closing the Bourne Bridge is not something local officials are considering.
“It hasn’t come up,” she said. “It isn’t something we are currently entertaining. Basically, we want to remain calm and open and helpful. And I think this is a situation where people are very nervous, and so what really needs to happen is the emphasis on social distancing and taking personal social responsibility. We just need to keep emphasizing that.”
Billboards now advertise Gov. Charlie Baker’s directive asking that anyone arriving in Massachusetts self-quarantine for 14 days, according to MacLeod Froman, who said she has noticed more vehicles with out-of-state license plates on the roads lately.
But as for a lockdown of the Cape? She personally doesn’t see it happening, she said.
“There’s a lot of steps before then and hopefully we will never get to that point,” MacLeod Froman said. “Hopefully people will catch on.”
On Friday, Cape Cod Healthcare, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, and Barnstable County leaders released an open letter to second homeowners asking that should they decide to come, they take a few actions, including the two-week self-quarantine.
The officials also asked the part-time residents to bring all the supplies and materials they need for their stay, since local stores are experiencing shortages on certain items.
“During the coronavirus crisis, we all understand the desire to come to your second home on the Cape while sheltering in place,” the letter says. “We are asking that if you do so, please help us all to remain safe and healthy.”
But while homeowners can still venture to their summer hangouts, as many have, those looking to stay in a hotel room or rental house will no longer be able to do so unless they meet certain requirements.
On Tuesday, Baker announced his administration has directed the Department of Public Health to issue an order detailing specific uses for hotels, motels, and short-term rentals, such as properties listed on Airbnb, during the coronavirus emergency.
Those kinds of lodging are to be used “for limited purposes only, which include direct efforts related to the fight against COVID-19,” such as use by health care workers, state residents who have been displaced from their homes, and workers in essential businesses, Baker said.
“The point here is to reserve these places for people who need them as a result of circumstances that relate to or were caused by COVID-19 and other emergencies,” he said. “Hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb may no longer be booked for vacation or leisure purposes.”
Local officials will have the ability to shut down businesses and properties that do not comply, according to Baker.
“I fully expect there will be places where this will be a big deal,” he said. “The biggest one that I can think of right now off the top of my head is the Cape, and certainly Berkshire County, too.”
According to Kelley Gossett, head of Massachusetts policy for Airbnb, the online rental listing company’s hosts have opened up their properties to medical workers “and others who need safe places to stay and self-isolate near hospitals” for free.
“As Airbnb becomes aware of new local policies across the nation, we are communicating them to our host and guest community, including in Massachusetts,” Gossett said in a statement.
Baker said people should be using common sense and forgoing vacations during the pandemic.
“People should be staying at home,” he said.