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With no COVID-19 cases, will Block Island welcome loaded ferries?

It was interesting to see Old Lyme officials lay down an early beach closing order in response to predictions of good weather this weekend.

Indeed, as we slide into a change of seasons and warming weather, with the governor planning for a modest reopening of the state's economy, the danger of summer crowds — on beaches, at fairs and strolling village sidewalks — is beginning to loom large.

I don't envy those, like the brave municipal leaders in Old Lyme, who need to curtail the pleasures of summer during the pandemic. They are ahead of Gov. Ned Lamont in tackling this thorny problem.

New London needs to decide what to do about Ocean Beach.

It is especially difficult in eastern Connecticut, where a tourism economy thrives on crowds that only come around in a big way for a few money-making months each year.

This dilemma is most stark, it seems to me, on Block Island, where much of the island's economic coffers are filled in the summer season by off-island visitors. But it is also still true for our shoreline communities from Westerly to Old Saybrook.

I can't imagine having to tell business owners that no one will be allowed to come to buy their T-shirts or frozen margaritas this year.

On the other hand, when I close my eyes and think of the Block Island ferry, all I can see are those big boats loaded with tourists, shoulder to shoulder at the railings, a COVID-19 nightmare. Is that going to be allowed to happen this year?

It reminds me of all those cruise ships floating offshore when this began, not allowed to land anywhere.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo's order demanding quarantine for anyone arriving from out of state would certainly apply to the New London boat filled primarily with Connecticut residents.

Will the Connecticut-based Block Island Express even run this year? How many of those travelers stay more than a day, let alone the two weeks needed for quarantine?

So far, Block Island has made it through the pandemic with virtually no cases. One person who came to his island house from New York tested positive and was evacuated from the island, which has no hospital, and hasn't returned.

North Carolina already has shut down the summer season for passenger-only ferries to the Outer Banks.

The company that runs ferries from Point Judith to Block Island told the island Town Council recently that the governor's order against crowds of more than 50 does not apply to its boats, which are transportation carriers.

Will residents of Block Island, where not long ago the prospect of off-islanders returning to their summer houses set off COVID-19 warning bells, now welcome boatloads of strangers to crowd their sidewalks and beaches? If they want to sell them T-shirts, maybe so.

And will governors Raimondo and Lamont let it happen?

The ferry industry is already in pain from the pandemic, with national industry trade groups clamoring for direct assistance from the next federal aid package. Presumably, many already have applied for loans that become grants if they keep their workforce in place.

I watched a couple of Long Island ferries come and go in New London recently, and there appeared to be a lot of opportunity for social distancing by cars. I counted fewer than a dozen vehicles on the big boats.

I know fuel prices are down, but those can't be money-making runs.

Maybe we've all become so spooked about proximity to others, that no one would dream of getting on a crowded ferry to go to Block Island for the day. There could naturally be fewer people, and therefore the boats might be safe.

And yet I think cabin fever has set in like never before, and a day on the beach seems like the perfect elixir.

Old Lyme officialdom saw that coming and acted early.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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