East End Leaders Call on Cuomo for Travel Ban

Several East End town supervisors, Shinnecock Nation leaders and village mayors called on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to “consider placing temporary limitations on non-essential travel from New York City to our area” in a letter Friday to the governor.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman expressed interest in such a travel ban in a Tuesday interview on WPPB’s “The Heart of the East End” with host Gianna Volpe, after which Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell called for such a ban in a statement Wednesday.

On Tuesday, members of the national coronavirus task force suggested in a press briefing at The White House that people who had recently left New York City should quarantine themselves after a staggering number of new cases were reported in the city.

“Everybody who was in New York should be self-quarantining for the next 14 days to ensure the virus doesn’t spread to others no matter where they have gone, whether it’s Florida, North Carolina or out to far reaches of Long Island,” said White House Coronavirus Task Force Response Coordinator Deborah Birx at the Tuesday evening press briefing at the White House. “We’re starting to see new cases across Long Island that suggest people have left the city.”

The letter to Governor Cuomo, on Southampton Town letterhead, was signed by Mr. Schneiderman and Mr. Russell, along with Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar; Chairman Bryan Polite, Vice Chairman Lance Gumbs and Sachem Donald Williams Jr. of the Shinnecock Nation; Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore, Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard; Sagaponack Village Mayor Donald Louchheim and North Haven Village Mayor Jeffrey Sander.

“We recognize that seasonal residents and visitors have the same rights to enjoy our area as our year-round residents. Nonetheless, the communities we represent are growing increasingly concerned by the sudden increase in our population and our lack of resources to address this growing demand. They are looking to local government to enact reasonable public health measures,” they said in their letter.

“Restrictions on non-essential travel could include daily sightseeing visits and leisure travel to vacation homes,” they added. “As a group, we are not looking to restrict seasonal residents from using their properties for residential purposes, but we hope that they will adhere to the federal recommendation of self-quarantine, and we hope they will understand the limitations of our local healthcare system and infrastructure. Additionally, we are not looking to restrict employees of essential businesses from entering or exiting our community. We are only looking at short-term reasonable limitations on nonessential travel to our area from the New York metropolitan area.”

“People out here are concerned that our hospitals and supermarkets will not be able to meet the needed demand if our population continues to surge.  We are all doing everything we can to reduce new cases of Covid-19, but that is very challenging when new people are constantly entering the community from the New York Metropolitan area, an epicenter for the coronavirus ,” said Mr. Schineiderman. “Our main concern is the ability of our hospitals and other healthcare providers to meet the needs of those who contract the virus.”

Mr. Russell had been quite blunt in his statement earlier this week:

“Southold relies heavily on volunteer first responders, who are trying to protect this community and their families, all while managing with limited protective gear,” Mr. Russell added. “Their heroic efforts are under substantial strain. Our limited medical resources are over-burdened and, despite stellar health care facilities, they are reaching capacity which has the potential of limiting access to local residents.”

“Southold should NOT be treated as someone’s personal isolation unit,” he added. “For others who have decided to use Southold as a shelter, respect this community and stay inside.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday he talked with representatives of the Suffolk County Health Department about the travel ban proposed by East End town supervisors, and said there was no epidemiological evidence that New Yorkers were responsible for cases of the disease here.

“The virus has been here for some time. It was here weeks before the first cases, and we didn’t know it because there was no testing done,” he told reporters on his Thursday afternoon press call, adding that “by all indications the virus has spread everywhere in our region. That includes the East End and the West End.”

When asked if New Yorkers who had left the city should self-quarantine at Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Wednesday morning press conference, members of Mr. Cuomo’s staff said people who have left New York should follow CDC social distancing guidelines and stay six feet away from other people, but did not offer guidance on whether those people should self-quarantine.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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