NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. — The New Shoreham Town Council will vote Monday night on an emergency resolution to request people to wear masks indoors, in reaction to an increase in COVID-19 cases over the last three weeks.
However, after hearing from several business owners about their own safety protocols at Thursday’s meeting, council members seemed to back away from the fear that the tiny island town was losing control of the virus.
The council had seemed prepared to enact a mask mandate after hearing from Dr. Thomas Warcup, of the Block Island Medical Center during a meeting Monday about the increased rate of transmission statewide over the last three weeks.
That was still happening, Warcup said Thursday evening. However, there was another aspect that he called “remarkable.”
New Shoreham has had 14 cases in the last three weeks, but only three in the last week. “Is that a hopeful sign?” asked Lars Trodson, executive director of the Block Island Chamber of Commerce.
“I could characterize that as a hopeful sign,” Warcup said, adding that he had been concerned that those who’d tested positive would have spread the virus to others. “I haven’t seen it. It’s truly remarkable,” he said.
The town has testing and vaccination clinics several days a week. On Thursday, 60 people were vaccinated — a rate that is usually between 20 to 40 per day, Warcup said. “It’s a very positive sign,” he added.
New Shoreham ranks 35th among the 39 cities and towns for COVID-19 infections, just above the rural communities of Jamestown, South Kingstown, Little Compton, and Richmond, according to data from the state Department of Health.
Unlike those towns, New Shoreham’s population explodes in the summer, when 15,000 to 20,000 tourists descend on the pristine beaches and tiny community.
Tourism is a major economic factor for the town, and last year’s pandemic travel restrictions cut deeply. Local businesses adapted, however, and several owners urged the council members to hear about the protocols they already had in place to prevent any infections.
The large hotels had quarantine areas for any infected employees, and all of the businesses shut down and test all employees if anyone is positive. Some have employees wearing masks. Spring House Hotel, for one, will conduct their own regular testing.
Marc Scortino, of Captain Nick’s Rock and Roll Bar, urged the council members to communicate with the businesses. “I think the past year was dramatic enough for everybody, and almost everyone in this room is following protocols,” he said.
After an hour of hearing from the doctor and the businesses, the council members seemed to have been swayed away from the urgency of a mask mandate.
The town’s emergency management director William McCombe was also convinced.
“There’s a lot of good things going on. If I was a visitor coming to this island, I’d feel pretty comfortable with what you put in place. I think there is community effort between what we have and continuing to get people vaccinated,” McCombe said. “It’s nice to hear the plans the businesses have here. We’re on a good path, and listen, we can’t control what will happen, we’re going to deal with what is, but I think everyone is headed in the right direction. If I was a tourist or I was a summer resident, I’d feel pretty good about going out to dinner. ... We’re very proactive, and we’re going to continue to be.”