State officials were right to close some parks as thousands of visitors swarmed over Montauk on Sunday. The drastic step came after the previous weekend, when thousands came to enjoy the sunshine.
Crowds are nothing new on the East End. What makes it a great place to live (if you can afford it) are many of the charms that attract attention from people elsewhere in the region. With nearly everything closed, there is little else to do other than just take a ride in a car or motorcycle or do a little exploring. The result on fair-weather days has been numbers of users exceeding the capacity to maintain safe social distancing in the more popular parks.
Some in the medical profession here have gone further, pointing out that all the people in the woods means more of them will be bitten by ticks, and some unknown proportion will be infected with Lyme disease, alpha gal meat allergy, babesiosis, or some other related illness. This will stretch already strained hospitals with the sickest patients. The increase in day-trip visitors may also create a spike in police and emergency medical service calls. Most of these will be routine, but they can put responders at greater risk of exposure to the virus. They also divert limited resources away from necessary patrol obligations as they run down dropped 911 calls or respond to complaints about loose dogs on the beach, for example. And then there are the large, organized motorcycle groups rumbling arrogantly through the villages and along back roads, whose participants seem to think the East End is their special parade ground.
Indications are that stay home orders have had an effect. For Suffolk County as a whole, the daily rate of confirmed Covid-19 cases appears to be on a downward trend. Avoiding crowded places, wearing masks and gloves, and thorough hand washing are being shown to slow the virus. However, there is concern that milder weather will only make the virus harder to control as more and more people try to get outside after weeks of feeling cooped up.
One troubling statistic in Suffolk could be described as a weekend effect, in which a positive test result for the virus may jump a few days after a mild Saturday or Sunday. Research at this early point shows that the onset of symptoms after exposure to Covid-19 seems to average around five days. The county has consistently had its largest daily increases midweek; the single greatest leap in positive cases was on the Wednesday after Easter. The rate tapered off for a few days until Wednesday of the following week, then shot up again.
Other factors are undoubtedly in play, too, but it is impossible to ignore that it looks as if higher numbers of positive Covid-19 diagnoses can be expected following increases in movement and public activity on the weekends.
An implication of this is that the East End could have a role in a greater number of cases among people outside of the region who may have come into contact with one another while roaming around this area. Considering this, we believe officials should pre-emptively limit access to parks, in particular in Montauk, as a way to dial back on weekend crowds. To the extent possible, police should look for ways to discourage large groups of any sort from coming here, even if this means trying to identify and ticket their organizers.
There are reasonable fears, too, that Covid-19 will have a deadlier second wave in the fall, with the start of the ordinary flu season. The director of the Centers for Disease Control told The Washington Post this week, "There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through." He told The Post that state and local officials have to spend the coming months to prepare for what is ahead. On the East End, it is really only a matter of weeks before the traditional start of the summer high season. To avoid becoming a new hotbed of the virus, our communities need to strictly enforce short-term rental laws and monitor the use of public amenities such as beach restrooms; and hotels and restaurants must be reconfigured to reduce the chance of further spread of the virus.
Social distance works and needs to be more aggressively enforced locally before there are real signs that the pandemic crisis is over. The East End's attractions may now be proving a kind of curse. And, if the C.D.C. is correct, the worst is yet to come.