Editor’s note: This guest column was submitted prior to the San Juan County Health Officer issuing his order to shut down tourism to the islands on March 25.
Submitted by Liz Smith, Friday Harbor
I recognize that you are all probably working overtime on many issues facing our county right now. Thank you for your efforts.
I would like to request that you shut down access to the islands to residents only starting immediately for the safety of our community and our healthcare workers.
For two weeks now, there have been reports of people from the mainland coming to the islands on the ferry and through the airport – to vacation, to party, to “hole up” and to escape the virus outbreak in Seattle. We are well aware that the virus is probably already here, but that does not have anything to do with limiting traffic to the islands.
Limiting entry is about minimizing spread and the impact on our healthcare system in the islands. We do not have the resources to take care of so many additional citizens who are fleeing the mainland. Our doctors, nurses, and first responders are and will be inundated with residents and those already on the island. For their safety and all of ours, we need to stop non-residents from arriving now.
This is happening all around the country and you need to only look at reports from island communities like Nantucket to see where this could lead if you do not take action to mitigate the damage. We do not need to have this devolve into a situation where residents and non-residents are at odds with each other. People are afraid. Taking on non-residents will only worsen fears.
This is not about panic. It is about prudence. There is precedent and we need to do this closure sooner rather than later. This is not an extreme measure – it is happening around the world. Please read this letter from an islander in France about movement restrictions.
The Florida Keys have just now closed their highway to non-residents and they are made all non-long-term visitors leave by 6 p.m. Sunday, March 22:
“Hotels, guest houses, short-term rentals in RV parks and vacation rentals have been directed to stop taking new reservations effective immediately. The only exception being made is for long-term renters in vacation homes and RV parks with contracts of 28 days or more. They’re allowed to stay until the end of their contracts. All other visitors must leave by 6 p.m. on Sunday. Government officials took action despite health officials in Monroe County saying there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Keys. But officials are quick to point out that the majority of people who contract coronavirus have mild or no symptoms at all. The order in is in effect for the next 14 days and will be re-evaluated on an ongoing basis.”
Thank you for your consideration. I do not envy the position you are in, but please take action now to protect our community and our health care workers. If this is not within your power as the county council to take action, please let us know who does have this power.