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Fluid East End Summer Crowds May Spread Virus

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 18:26


Remember when there was hope that Covid-19 would fade away when hot weather came? Well, that has proven not to be the case as the rate of disease has continued to climb along with the temperature.

The famous “curve,” which has been flattened here in the New York area, remains on an unabated upward climb in Texas since the virus was first detected there in March. In hard-hit Harris County, Tex., where Houston is located, the rate of new cases went past 1,000 a day last week, peaking at nearly 2,000 last Thursday. June’s average weekly highs for Houston have been in the upper 80s and low 90s. As our own region seems poised to take another step toward the resumption of normal activity, the question is what the Texas example holds for individuals and policymakers here.

There is a sense on South Fork streets and perhaps on the beaches that we may somehow have defeated the virus. There is no evidence this is true. Researchers estimate that 60 percent of a community would have to be infected for it to be considered immune; so far only about 20 percent of New York City residents have been infected. In Suffolk County, only about 12 percent of people tested have been positive for the disease; fewer than 4 percent more have been found with Covid-19 antibodies. This indicates that there is plenty of room left for the coronavirus to rage here.

Places that draw crowds or have relatively high rates of visitors, like the South Fork, face a particular challenge. While state and county-level decisions about reopening businesses and public facilities might make sense in some places, conditions might be very different during a packed Hamptons summer.

One of the quirks of how Covid-19 cases are sorted out statistically is that a patient’s place of residence, not where he or she caught the virus, might give a false sense of security. One East Hampton official noted this week that a restaurant or bar might be complying with the rules about the distance between tables at 5 p.m., but after a couple of hours of dinner service, that might no longer be true. Keeping an eye simultaneously on all of the many establishments serving food and alcohol — as well as private gatherings in excess of the current 25-person maximum — is impossible. And with mask wearing and adequate social distancing far from universal, good times could contribute to a Covid-19 resurgence here, as elsewhere.

New York, along with New Jersey and Connecticut, has imposed a two-week quarantine on visitors arriving from states with uncontrolled rates of infection. It is unlikely, however, that, for example, a traveler from Florida, one of the affected states, arriving at East Hampton Airport aboard a private jet would be stopped and told to quarantine. The other states are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. Flights originating in several of those states arrive at East Hampton regularly. The state takes the travel restrictions seriously, but it is not clear that our regional airports and airlines have gotten the message, at least not yet.

This all adds up to a potentially dangerous new phase for the coronavirus here. With a high degree of movement by residents and the presence of transient visitors, the South Fork could become a hot spot for new infections. It is imperative that best practices about masks and social distancing are followed. It is also important that elected officials, in their zeal to get the economy up and running again, do not act before it is safe to do so by downplaying the still very real threat.


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