Locals are petitioning to close the bridges into Cape Cod to keep out the influx of second-homeowners fleeing the coronavirus

A couple reads under their umbrellas on the side of the bikeway that runs along the Cape Cod Canal, and under Sagamore Bridge that spans 616 feet across the canal. John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
  • Locals in the Cape Cod area are signing a petition for bridges to be closed in an attempt to prevent any more big city residents from migrating to the area amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • At the time of publication, the petition had over 12,500 out of 15,000 requested signatures.
  • Cape Cod is the latest small town area to be hit with those fleeing from coronavirus “hotspots” like New York City.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In the Cape Cod area, full-time residents are signing a petition for the bridges to be closed to prevent any more visitors (and specifically New York City-based second homeowners) from coming to the area amid the coronavirus pandemic. This is the latest example of the tension brewing between big city residents and the suburban towns they are escaping to.

“Stop the spread of Covid-19,” the petition, started by South Yarmouth resident Beth Hickman, reads. “Close the bridges. Only year round residents, medical personnel. Trucks that deliver essential supplies. While we love our tourists and summer residents, this is not the time to come to the Cape, our hospital can’t handle it. We only have 2 small hospitals here on Cape, and limited medical staff.”

At the time of publication, the petition had over 12,500 out of 15,000 signatures.

Cape Cod’s local Norwich Bulletin spoke to residents about the circulating petition. One part-time Cape Cod resident, who lives primarily in Manhattan and has had a second home in Cape Cod’s Eastham since 1984, said he and his family experienced hostility since coming to the area, even though they self-quarantined after their initial arrival on March 12.

At first, the anonymous man said, he and his family tried to help out their fellow neighbours by leaving notes, offering assistance or supplies. But in response, he said he received a note reading: “Go back to New York and take coronavirus with you.” The man and his family have since relocated to the Berkshires, “where it’s more pleasant.”

“We’re done with the Cape,” he told the Norwich Bulletin. “We’re not going back.”

Massachusetts Rep. Timothy Whelan told the Bulletin that people don’t understand what would happen if Cape’s bridges were to shut down.

“To close the bridges would take a declaration of martial law,” Whelan said, noting that it would require the presence of armed military personnel policing the bridges. “My goal has been to make it through my life without ever having to live under martial law.”

On Thursday, Barnstable County officials commented on the petition, with County Administrator Jack Yunits noting that only Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has the authority to order the bridges closed, which Yunits doesn’t currently see as a real possibility: “The huge reason that [Baker] would have to have to justify the closures is not within the purview right now.”

Small towns fight back against those fleeing big cities

The well-heeled second-homeowners who are leaving their primary residences in urban areas and disregarding self-isolation measures are being called “super-spreaders,” as they often come from coronavirus hotspots like New York and bring the virus to the smaller suburban areas they go to.

Once arriving in these small areas, the newly-arrived part-time residents disrupt local life. As a result, there have been reports of food shortages in vacation towns across the nation, and rental home prices in places like the Hamptons have skyrocketed.

On March 27, The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, Cape Cod Healthcare and a County Administrator published a joint letter asking second homeowners who are migrating to the area to self-quarantine for 14 days and to bring all of their “needed supplies” (such as prescriptions, groceries, and self-care items) with them so that they don’t deplete local resources.

Other vacation spots favoured by the wealthy have seen similar issues. The island of Nantucket, which saw a cluster of wealthy people come to their summer homes amid the pandemic, told its part-time residents to “stay away” because the island has just one hospital and 14 beds, Business Insider’s Katie Warren reported in March.