I haven’t traveled very far since COVID-19 began spreading through New York.
Outside a few errands and a trip to a nearby nature preserve, I’ve stayed home, making more use of the backyard and going for the occasional walk around the neighborhood. Do I miss going places? Sure. But I’m trying my best to follow the state’s advice: Stay home. Save lives.
So it was with great interest that I read about the influx of people arriving in the Adirondacks, many of them, officials say, summer residents arriving two months early.
One Caroga resident took a photograph of a packed trailhead at Kane Mountain, in Fulton County, and observed, “Been like this for a week, daily and 95 percent from out-of-area, two to four people per car, over 75 vehicles in the course of the day, more than 4th of July week. The fire tower is closed, but some people are going up anyway. Many license plates from downstate, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts.”
This is not staying home and saving lives.
This is fleeing home and taking whatever germs you happen to be carrying to rural upstate communities that rely on a health care system that’s stretched thin in the best of times.
A COVID-19 outbreak in the Adirondacks would be devastating, which is why a growing number of local officials are asking visitors, weekenders and seasonal residents to stay away.
“Take travel restrictions and social distancing seriously,” said Siobhan Carney-Nesbitt, president of the Adirondack 46ers. “Go for a walk in your neighborhood or on low-risk nature hikes in your own communities in an effort to avoid unnecessary strain on DEC personnel and local healthcare facilities. Refrain from traveling to the High Peaks from outside the High Peaks region at this time.”
It’s a reasonable request, given what we already know about how quickly coronavirus can spread and overwhelm hospitals and health clinics.
Unfortunately, it seems to be falling on deaf ears.
With New York City’s high COVID-19 death toll dominating the headlines, a surge of coronavirus cases in the North Country might sound far-fetched.
But remoteness does not make rural communities immune to coronavirus – and their lack of medical resources and aging populations make them especially vulnerable to a bad outbreak.
Throughout the U.S., rural communities that double as vacation hot-spots have been hard-hit by COVID-19, in large part because they see so many visitors.
Blaine County, Idaho, a rural skiing destination, has one of the highest per-capita rates of confirmed COVID-19 infection in America.
In one NPR story, officials from Sun Valley, Idaho, a wealthy Blaine County resort town, sound eerily like year-round Adirondack residents describing an influx of out-of-towners. “It seems likely that people were fleeing other places and not recognizing that they were then bringing the disease with them from Seattle, or other areas where they might live part time,” a doctor told National Public Radio.
I can’t read people’s minds, so I don’t know whether those flocking to rural vacation destinations and second homes are aware that they can spread COVID-19 even when they’re not experiencing symptoms of the disease.
What I do know is that we’ve all been asked to stay home – and some people are ignoring this advice in ways that threaten vulnerable communities and populations.
One thing that might help: If Gov. Andrew Cuomo would do more to sound the alarm that traveling right now is a bad idea, especially if you’re coming from a COVID-19 hot spot like the New York City metropolitan area.
Instead, he’s downplayed the notion that more should be done, dismissing calls for a travel ban by saying, “I don’t believe it’s medically justified.”
I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of a travel ban, or the heavy-handed tactic employed by the governor of Rhode Island, who directed police to pull over motorists from New York and order them to self-quarantine. That directive was later repealed, but is it wrong to be wary of newly arrived visitors from communities hard-hit by COVID-19? Absolutely not.
Which is why we need Cuomo to support the Adirondack officials who are asking visitors to stay away for now.
Yes, we’re all one state, as the governor likes to say.
But protecting rural upstate communities from COVID-19 requires understanding just how hard an explosion of cases would hit them – and crafting a message that reinforces the need to stay put, even if you own a second home in Keene Valley or on Great Sacandaga Lake, or simply feel like this is a good time to hike Mount Marcy.
None of this is intended to disparage people from New York City.
But we know that travel and group activity fuel the spread of COVID-19.
This is a time to respect the wishes of Adirondack communities, and stay away.