Earlier this year the citizens of Massachusetts were among the first in the nation to shelter in place and shouldered a significant economic burden in order to flatten the curve, but recently the behavior of a few on our region’s beaches have endangered the progress that was dearly purchased.
This spring all of our citizens, young and old, followed a stay-at-home order and mandatory mask requirements as a civic duty. We showed that we cared as much for our neighbors’ health as our own. Yet that same focus on the health of others has dramatically fallen off in recent weeks. If our local and state governments do not enforce social distancing, boat rafting prohibitions and masking while in close quarters, our communities risk falling back into the infectious hot spot that we spent so much time and energy digging ourselves out of over the past few months.
Just two months ago, the people of Massachusetts stood in shock as they watched the people of Florida flout the guidance of Anthony Fauci and the National Institutes of Health. After we fought so hard to contain the virus in its early weeks, there was a palpable sense of betrayal. Our southern neighbors seemed to be ignoring the danger that we had just confronted and discounted our government leaders hard learned experience.
Now on the North Shore, Wingaersheek Beach stands out as an example of the risks that still threaten our recovery. The warm weather has called people back outside and the beaches are open and filled with happy voices. Restricting beach parking has been an unfortunate but necessary policy in shore towns to enable life guards and beach attendants to manage the crowds and maintain a safe environment for everyone trying to cool off. But we also need to address the emerging threat posed by individuals who have flouted the governor’s social distancing regulations and boat rafting ban.
Each weekend, while one half of Wingaersheek beach is carefully controlled by lifeguard patrols and marked by social distancing there is another half of the beach that is ignored. Dozens of boats raft eight or nine abreast in the shallow water. Deep crowds that number in the hundreds spill from the boats, paying no attention to mask and social distancing requirements. The wall of watercraft block normal public access to the water and limit safe swimming conditions.
These rave type parties produce an environment that favors the transmission of COVID-19. These beach partiers are in their late teens to late 20s. They seem to feel invincible but when the party ends, they will mix with their unsuspecting neighbors and transmissions will again begin to spike. Unfortunately, the price for their risky behavior will be paid by the more vulnerable members of our communities, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions. Our children will also suffer if the behavior necessitates the suspension of their education in September.
Gov. Baker has already issued the rafting bans and mandated masks. But local and state officials are not enforcing the new rules. Our local governments cannot sit idly by while this problem grows larger each weekend. Some may argue that it is hard to enforce public health regulations in inconvenient places or say that we should allow people to blow off steam and relax over the weekends. Others may point out that the offenders don’t mean any harm and that regulating behavior like this is difficult. But this is surely a case when, difficult as it is to do the right thing, we need to be able to count on our local leaders to do the hard things we elected them to do and find solutions to these problems. If our public officials are not yet aware of this problem, they are asleep at the switch. If they are aware and are taking no action to address the problem they are negligent and failing to meet the obligations of their offices.
J.C. Taplett is a resident of Gloucester and a retired naval intelligence officer and former software executive who is currently a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School.