Coastal towns in the state, including Westerly and Charlestown, as well as Block Island, are asking the owners of second homes who have traveled in from out of state to observe a voluntary 14-day self-quarantine.
Westerly Town Manager J. Mark Rooney and Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey both signed a directive Tuesday afternoon announcing the request. Charlestown enacted a similar measure on Wednesday morning and municipal officials on Block Island had made the same request on Monday.
"The town of Westerly is directing anyone traveling from out of state into the town for residence to consider a self-quarantine for a period of 14 days, particularly those residents coming from another state or city with a 'shelter in place' order already in effect," a statement signed by Rooney and Lacey reads.
On Wednesday, Rooney said the town's fire districts agreed to send an e-mail announcing the directive to shoreline property owners.
"We expect to gain cooperation without a mandate or order. I figure most people are good and in a crisis know what's right to do and will do it," Rooney said.
To bolster efforts to spread the word, Rooney said, signs explaining the directive would be placed in local businesses. He said there are signs that seasonal residents are cooperating — about six seasonal residents called the Westerly Police Department recently stating they had arrived to town and offered their names and addresses.
Rooney said he expected real estate companies that handle rental housing along the shoreline to inform their customers of the self-quarantine directive.
On Monday, Westerly town officials said they had observed a significant early influx of seasonal residents who usually arrive in late spring or early summer into their homes in Watch Hill.
Westerly Town Councilor William Aiello, in an e-mail message to state and local officials, said several residents had called him to express concern about people traveling into Westerly from places with a high rate of infection. State Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Westerly, passed Aiello's concern on to Gov. Gina Raimondo, who responded, "They can be and probably should be. Have your town manager or council do an emergency order as soon as they are able and pursuant to the correct authorities."
The directive from Rooney and Lacey follows Raimondo's order Monday that all those returning from domestic air travel must self-quarantine for 14 days.
Charlestown issued an advisory on Wednesday morning urging tourists and seasonal residents to remain inside their homes if they decided to travel to the town.
Signed by Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz and Emergency Management Director Kevin Gallup, the advisory states:
"In response to Executive Order 21-10 from Governor Gina Raimondo which requires persons returning to Rhode Island from domestic airline travel must self-quarantine for 14 days to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Town of Charlestown is also instructing all out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine for the same two-week period. Homeowners and seasonal residents traveling from COVID-19 affected areas with a 'shelter in place' order are urged to stay inside. Homeowners and seasonal residents, especially those traveling from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts, are particularly urged to stay inside."
Stankiewicz said the advisory was prompted by a growing concern regarding the potential for community spread of the coronavirus.
"A lot of our seasonal residents are coming in earlier and they’re coming from affected areas and we just want everyone to be as safe as they can," he said. "This is all the result of the governor’s press conference yesterday [Tuesday]. There was a question that came up about towns such as Newport and coastal towns. She punted it back and said 'listen, notices and things like that are at the discretion of the local authorities, the local managers, and not the state.' So once those words were uttered, then it only became a matter of time before towns like Charlestown and Westerly would put something like this up."
Gallup said more than the usual number of seasonal residents were currently in Charlestown.
"Normally what happens is, 20 or 30% of our summer homes are filled with people over school break time,” he said. "This year, we have more because of what's going on, so we have, maybe, 50 to 60% of people here …. Usually they'd be here this time of year and then leave, and we don't think they're leaving. The concern is they flee from a place that has a 'shelter in place' order, and they're going to come here and wander around, and we're not good with that."
Stankiewicz said the town was receiving increasing numbers of phone calls from concerned full-time residents.
"They started right after the governor’s press conference yesterday," he said. "We’ve gotten some emails, we’ve gotten some phone calls, and obviously, we don’t have the resources, nor do I think we would shut down the town at the borders. That's a job for the National Guard. So, this is the best we can do."
Gallup said that coronavirus or not, seasonal residents had every right to visit their homes.
"They pay taxes, same as everybody else," he said. "We just don’t want them bringing the virus with them. We can ask people to try and keep everybody safe, and that’s what we're doing."
On Monday night the Block Island Town Council voted to impose a "shelter in place" order and to encourage owners of second homes and other visitors not to come to the island and to observe a 14-day quarantine if they do.
Staff writer Cynthia Drummond contributed to this report.