Great Barrington Selectboard members clarify guidelines for visitors during COVID-19 contagion

To the editor:

In the days since the town of Great Barrington put out a press release asking second-home owners and visitors not to come here, or if already here to quarantine for 14 days, we have received several letters from people who are offended. They ask, why is it OK for us to welcome them and their money most of the time, but to turn on them now?

It’s a legitimate question. Our region does benefit quite a bit from second-home owners, weekenders, and tourists. You pay taxes, you support our local businesses, and you contribute generously to local arts and charitable organizations. You are our friends and neighbors.

It is a good question but there’s a good answer. We are not turning on you; we are concerned for EVERYONE’S safety. Of course, second-home owners are welcome here most of the time, but for now, the only chance we have to avoid serious illness and death on a large scale is if all of us stay home. All of us.

The statement put out by the town of Great Barrington is not town policy. It is the town echoing the advice and directive of both New York’s and Massachusetts’ governors and health departments and it is similar to pleas made by governors all over the country. Stay home, everyone.

We are concerned for the welfare of year-round residents AND second-home owners. More people arriving here, especially from an area where the likelihood of illness is high, is not good for the people arriving or the people already here.

There are two issues: the first is contagion. That can be mitigated if the people who come here, as well as the people who live here year-round, stay in their homes. We hope all arrived with two weeks of supplies and are staying home so they don’t need to make trips to the grocery store or pharmacy. Each of those trips risks the health of the employees who are doing hero’s work just by showing up. We would hope everyone did arrive already prepared, but many didn’t.

The second issue is healthcare capacity. Our 25-bed hospital is working fast to expand to 50 beds but even that will be overwhelmed very quickly. Medical equipment is as strained here as anywhere else.

We entirely understand why one would prefer to be here now rather than NYC. We really do. But to assume that we will have the medical resources to handle this, to take care of additional people who are sick, is wishful thinking. We do not have that capacity.

The decision to send out the press release was anything but short-sighted. The COVID-19 task force meets (virtually) almost daily to assess the situation and the town manager spends almost all of his time dealing with COVID-19 issues to determine the best course of action. One can make all the political and economic arguments in the world about why we should not have asked people to stay away. But the obvious truth is that more people, especially coming from an area where the disease is rampant, will be dangerous for everyone who is here, whether year-round or a seasonal visitor.

Again, we hope that second-home owners and visitors who are already here came with enough supplies to stay in their homes. And if they didn’t, we hope they take advantage of the businesses that will deliver. If you haven’t left, please heed the warnings of the governors, the CDC and all expert scientists, and shelter in place.

Mostly we hope, for everyone’s sake, that we all stay healthy.

Stephen Bannon

Ed Abrahams

The writers are respectively, chair and vice chair of the Great Barrington Selectboard and members of the COVID-19 task force.