Letter to the Editor: Virusland



To the Editor: 

Right now, the only defense against COVID 19 is prevention. We have no acquired immunity, no vaccine, no effective treatment.  

The virus is carried into each new area somehow. Quickly detecting cases and stopping its spread is much easier the fewer cases one has to discover. 

We are now all making many difficult sacrifices in the hope we can prevent the kind of horrific contagion we saw in Wuhan, that we now see in many European countries and in some of our cities and towns, like New York City. Portland is home to a rising number of cases spreading within the local community. 

Maine, normally known as “Vacationland,” is at risk of becoming “Virusland” if we don’t quickly take additional steps to limit the spread of the virus throughout the State.  

One of those steps must be the immediate discouragement of tourism by way of aggressive messaging and the closure of all types of transient lodging except for emergency needs. And it means discouraging those able to own second homes in Maine from coming to “hide” among us.  

 

This is a hard argument to hear. It can be perceived as unkind or unfair or interfering with people’s property rights or rights to travel freely. In normal times these would all be accurate knocks.  But this is a public health crisis and pandemics have no respect for people’s “rights.” The best way we can help protect everyone from harm is for everyone to stay where we are and avoid contact. One’s assertion of a right might well be at the price of another’s death. It is wrong both practically and morally to argue it’s here so it doesn’t matter anymore. Many health care providers have contracted COVID19. Every extra case subjects our medical personnel and first responders to additional risk.  

In China the area around Wuhan was all but sealed off from the rest of the nation and people were not allowed to take the virus with them elsewhere. It’s far too early to celebrate, but for several days there have been no new reported cases from inside China. All new cases are found in people traveling to China from outside. That requires a robust response but is not a crisis. Chinese businesses and community life are slowly beginning to re-open.  

Northern Italy, tragically slow to react, is being devastated with tens of thousands of illnesses and many thousands of dead. The contagion is beginning to ravage the rest of the country. One reason is believed to be the thousands of northerners who fled south just as travel restrictions were introduced. 

In England, London is the center of the outbreak. But perhaps not for long as thousands head for second homes in the countryside. It has led to shortages of necessities outside the city and many local government officials urging people to stay away.  

Norway has seen a flood of urbanites fleeing to cottages. That government has ordered seasonal residents and visitors to return home. The smaller communities, they point out, are in no position to meet the personal and medical needs of an expanded population during a pandemic.  

Up and down the east coast, communities are alarmed to see people “fleeing” to alternative homes because of the virus or choosing now to “get away.” Part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks has closed itself to non-residents. 

Hospitals on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, dependent on tourism and seasonal property taxes like us and proportionally no better medically resourced, have issued this notice to all considering arriving:  

  • We are asking you to stay at home
  • For those Island residents, only travel for the absolute necessities, such as food or prescriptions
  • If you come to the Island – you will only strain our limited resources, putting your life and others at risk
  • If you have a summer home here – we are asking you to stay at your home residence – we have limited bed capacity 25 at MVH and 14 at NCH – and that is already strained
  • We have limited medical resources here on the Island and they are dwindling rapidly
  • We will not have enough staff to care for you or your loved ones
  • Our hospitals are virtually locked down to prevent the flow of people through the facility

We must act now – to prevent any further spread. 

It will be the best day ever when we can welcome everyone back without reservation. But subjecting our communities to additional and unnecessary risk at a time when we are sacrificing so much to be good public health citizens may make our sacrifices for naught. Taking care of a wintertime population is going to be hard enough. If we swell to twice or more in number it will be impossible. That will be tragic for locals and visitors alike.  

Gail Marshall 

Mount Desert 

 

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