EDITORIAL: We are all in this together

It has been said before that a crisis brings out the best and the worst in people. We see it in our leaders in Washington, some of whom are using the COVID-19 pandemic for their own political benefit, while disreputable online retailers are engaging in price gouging on critical supplies.

But there are also acts of heroism and kindness everywhere. Closer to home, for example, the healthcare professionals at Berkshire Medical Center and Fairview Hospital are working long hours under dangerous conditions and often without adequate resources, caring for hundreds of patients who could potentially make workers fatally ill. 

It’s much the same for first-responders — police, firefighters and EMTs who arrive at the scene of an emergency not knowing what to expect. All of these people are heroes, plain and simple. And don’t forget those who continue to work in essential retail and delivery, often risking their health to ensure that we can buy the provisions we need to make it through this crisis.

In the absence of strong, consistent and competent leadership from the White House, other officials are filling the void. Regionally, Gov. Charlie Baker, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo come to mind. And local officials — health agents, town managers, elected officials — have also stepped to offer hope, common sense and access to their public meetings through video conferencing platforms.

A sign outside Aberdale’s in Housatonic, Mass., advising recent arrivals from New York not to enter.

There is so much good happening in the Berkshires and in the region that it is troubling to see antipathy arising on the street and on social media against those who have retreated to their homes in the Berkshires to ride out the storm. 

The prevailing wisdom among some full-time Berkshire County residents is that New Yorkers should stay put in their apartments and co-ops and not travel to their weekend homes in places like the Berkshires and neighboring Litchfield and Columbia counties. The fear is that these outsiders might bring the virus with them and/or strain our small healthcare system and burden a supply chain that is unsuited to serving so many people. But of course, hospitals and grocery stores are experiencing the same problems in New York.

We have heard of vehicles with New York plates being vandalized and verbal abuse hurled at those who are from outside the region. Local Facebook pages have been filled with vitriolic posts and comments from natives who accused New Yorkers of being “selfish” and “arrogant” in fleeing the city for safer environs.

This is a sad development on many levels. First of all, there is the simple matter of property rights. If you own a home in another location, then you surely have a right to be there. To its credit, the town of Great Barrington, along with the state and other municipalities, is urging a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone from a high-risk COVID-19 region who is temporarily relocating to a Great Barrington second-home or short-term rental in order to isolate from the virus. 

That is a fair request. And of course, everyone in the state, including full-timers, must abide by Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency order of April 1 that closes nonessential businesses and bans gatherings of 10 people or more at least until May 4.

Secondly, unwarranted criticism of second-homeowners runs the risk of biting the hand that feeds you. At the moment, for example, many eateries in the region are either shut down or are operating with a bare-bones staff to offer take-out orders only. Other restaurants are doing remarkably well during this challenging time. 

Look no further than Edge contributor Hannah Van Sickle’s recent story on South County restaurants that are weathering the storm, in part because of take-out orders. Each of the three restaurants featured have managed to keep much of their staff employed, surely in no small measure because of hungry second-homers with disposable income.

It’s also worth noting that part-time residents pay full taxes on their properties, while enrolling no children in our schools and, unlike full-timers, they must pay taxes on the belongings inside their second homes.

Lastly, the economy of the Berkshires is in a uniquely fragile condition. The rich summer cultural scene that fuels the county’s commerce is hanging by a thread. Both the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Jacob’s Pillow have essentially canceled their 2020 seasons because of the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. The Berkshire Theatre Group wants to start its season on Aug. 1, but no one knows if that’s even possible.

Meanwhile, Tanglewood, the granddaddy of them all, this week announced that a decision on the 2020 season at the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra would be made by mid-May. Imagine, for a moment, if the Tanglewood season were canceled or dramatically scaled back. The effect on the region’s economy, from restaurants to the hospitality industry, could be devastating. And much of the money that fuels the summer economy comes — you guessed it — from people traveling to the Berkshires from metropolitan regions in the Northeast.

Coming to the Berkshires to escape the contagion isn’t an act of selfishness, as some have suggested. It’s human instinct to want to protect your family, and it’s a person’s right, regardless of where they’re from, to seek refuge in the homes they own. But New Yorkers and others must remember to act with sensitivity to, and respect for, the anxieties of full-time local residents by observing a period of self-quarantine. We are, after all, growing more dependent on each other in these unprecedented times.