Image: NYC Department of Health

The supervisors of Southold and Southampton towns are calling for restrictions on travel from the New York City metropolitan area to the East End.

New York City residents have been flocking to the East End in unusually high numbers for March and the supervisors are concerned that the influx will bring with it further spread of the novel coronavirus in the communities of the East End.

New York City has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. As of this morning, New York City has 29% of the confirmed coronavirus cases in the country — 20,011 out of 69,197, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University.

The COVID-19 case load is straining New York City’s health care system, which has hospitalized more than 2,800 people for the disease. The Federal Emergency Management Agency projected that all of the more than 1,800 intensive care units in the city would be full by Friday, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Some local officials are concerned that a sudden, early influx of second-home owners and renters on the East End — where the population doubles during the summer months — will put a burden on the East End communities that local governments, merchants and, in particular, the local health care system, will not be able to meet during this time of crisis.

“The virus has put a tremendous strain on our resources,” Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said yesterday.

“We have a limited number of stores who are trying to keep their shelves stocked and ration out supplies as best they can,” Russell said. “Local residents are finding it difficult to meet even their most basic needs,” he said.

The “recent, sudden expansion of the population” by people seeking refuge from the metropolitan areas makes it that much more difficult to provide for residents’ basic needs, Russell said.

“It is simple math, the more people that come, the greater the spread and the greater the confirmed cases,” he said.

Southold relies heavily on volunteer first responders who are trying to protect this community and their families, all the while managing with limited protective gear, Russell said.

“Their heroic efforts are under substantial strain.”

Local health care facilities, while “stellar” are “reaching capacity,” Russell said, “which has the potential of limiting access to local residents.”

There are three hospitals on the East End: Stony Brook/Eastern Long Island in Greenport (70 beds), Stony Brook/Southampton Hospital in Southampton (124 beds) and Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead (140 beds.) Each are working to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive to increase their number of beds by a minimum of 50% to handle COVID patients.

The three hospitals together had 34 ICU beds when the outbreak began locally. PBMC has added four ICU beds, bringing its total to 28 and all three hospitals will be able to add ICU beds if they are supplied with additional ventilators, but that remains a big question because the equipment is in such short supply.

Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told the Southampton Press he is asking all the supervisors and mayors on the East End to sign a letter to the governor asking him to put short-term limitations on non-essential travel from the New York Metropolitan area to the East End.

On Tuesday, the White House Coronavirus Task Force urged people who have been in or traveled through NYC to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“For those who already have come here, follow federal guidelines to self-quarantine for 14 days,” Russell said yesterday. “It is essential to avoid public exposure to others at all costs and they need to stay in place,” he said.

“This town is in a crisis,” Russell said. “It is bound to get worse and sometimes draconian measures are necessary. A travel ban is one of those measures,” he said.

“For others who have decided to use Southold as a shelter, respect this community and stay inside.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.