On Cape Cod, Fears Mount Over Travelers Fleeing Coronavirus

Officials on the Cape, which reported its first COVID-19-related deaths this week, are working to counter the perception that their seaside communities are a haven from the outbreak

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Sitting at Lighthouse Beach in Chatham, Christine Sanders read a listing one of her neighbors posted on the vacation rental site HomeAway. 

The property was billed as a perfect location for a family -- 1-acre of “corona free” space, priced at $771 a night.

“I think it’s totally, totally nauseating,” Sanders said.

Many longtime residents of Cape Cod have come to accept the influx of visitors each summer, sharing sunshine and sandy beaches with tourists from far and wide.

But with the country facing a growing pandemic, some Cape residents are on edge as travelers begin to arrive, worrying they don’t have the resources to care for those who already call the region home.

“It’s simply not true that we’re [coronavirus]-free,” said Shareen Davis, who chairs the Board of Selectmen in Chatham. “We’re not.”

The couple who posted the vacation rental ad in Chatham told the NBC10 Boston Investigators they would take it down. They had no further comment.

Ten more people have died from coronavirus in Massachusetts, where there have been 3,240 confirmed cases.

Now officials on the Cape, which reported its first deaths related to the novel coronavirus this week, are working to counter the perception that their seaside communities are a haven from the outbreak. 

Davis said Chatham is seeing a sharp increase in house rentals and out-of-state license plates, some from coronavirus hot spots.

“This is an influx we didn’t expect,” she said.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday announced that all travelers to Massachusetts will be asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival. The state is sharing that message with all passengers arriving at airports in Boston and Worcester, or by train at South Station. The message is also being shared on highway signs, and at rest stops along the Massachusetts Turnpike -- a common path for drivers heading north to Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced visitors to the state must now self-quarantine for 14-days amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s concerning for some on the Cape, who fear people fleeing the New York area will seek out beach-front properties in Massachusetts to weather the epidemic. 

New York has emerged this week as one of the global centers of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting officials at the White House to warn travelers from that state to limit their exposure to others.

“We don’t want that to be another seeding point for the rest of the country, wherever they go,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo discusses the lack of ventilators for people affected by the coronavirus in his state.

A spokesperson for Cape Cod Hospital said staff are too focused on patient care to discuss the subject with the media. But others who spoke with NBC10 said resources are a big concern.

“We only have two hospitals on the Cape that serve 220,000 year-round residents,” said Davis, the Chatham selectman.

“My mother is elderly, and the thought of her getting sick is extremely scary,” added Sanders, “especially if she wasn’t able to get a bed in the hospital because of an influx of tourists.”

South of Plymouth, there were only 423 hospital beds available on the Cape prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Only 21 of those were intensive care unit beds -- essential to treat those who become seriously ill. And the hospitals were already typically more than half full at any given time, according to data collected by federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Definitive Health, a private company that provides analytics to the health care industry.

Gov. Baker speaks to media on Nantucket's first case of coronavirus on Sunday. 

Treatment options were even more scarce at the two hospitals on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, the data shows. They had only 44 hospital beds between them, and no capacity for intensive care.

The Massachusetts State Police announced Friday they would deploy three more troopers to the islands next week to “bolster public safety capabilities during the coronavirus emergency.” They will help patrol Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and assist local departments with their needs.

Nantucket Selectman Jason Bridges says these are dark days for his town. Nantucket Cottage Hospital, the short-term acute care hospital on the island, has fewer than 20 beds and no capacity for intensive care, according to federal data.

It also lacked ventilators before the outbreak, according to Bridges, meaning it would be unable to treat those who become the most seriously ill.

“We are in big, big serious trouble,” he said.

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