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ENE Blog: Block Island, Unmasked

Text & Photo By Tom Richardson

Several months of being homebound during the New England mud season wasn’t so bad. A little boring, perhaps, but by late June I was itching to get outdoors and start working on new films and episodes for Explore New England. When the Covid spread in New England had moderated and travel restrictions were loosened, I hit the road (and water), bound for Block Island to film some shoulder-season outdoor activities. I wasn’t sure what the situation on-island would be like, so I rustled up a few bottles of hand sanitizer and some facemasks and headed to Point Judith and the Block Island Ferry.

To my relief, the ferry ride wasn’t nearly as threatening as I had feared. The crew and most of the other passengers wore masks, and there was plenty of space to isolate on the wind-swept upper decks. I began to relax and settle into that familiar Block Island vibe.

My mood changed once I disembarked at Old Harbor. The downtown area was far more crowded than I had anticipated, the sidewalks, bars, and restaurants at times crowded with visitors, many of them mask-less and coming in close proximity to strangers—this in stark contrast to the workers, most of whom seemed to be taking the preventative measures very seriously. My concern only increased over the next few days as I encountered group after group of mostly young people who seemed oblivious to the danger posed by coronavirus. Or maybe they simply didn’t care.

Either way, I fear that this type of attitude will be the undoing of any recent progress toward “normalcy,” never mind an end to the pandemic. If we experience a major resurgence in the number of Covid cases here in New England (as is occurring elsewhere in the country), the likely result will be a return to the travel and social-gathering restrictions of March and April. That would be a shame, especially since we’ve come so far and sacrificed so much.

The point of my rant is this: We all need to remain vigilant in our efforts to halt the spread of Covid 19, and to encourage others to do likewise. We can’t let our guard down. The alternative will be more deaths related to the virus, continued economic suffering, curtailment of social activities, and a prolonged postponement of doing the things we love to do, with the people we love to do them with.

To help promote safe, responsible practices for enjoying the outdoors, Explore New England has joined the  Recreate Responsibly Coalition, a nationwide community of over 500 businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, outdoor media and influencers with a shared love of the outdoors, a desire to help everyone experience the benefits of nature, and a belief that by sharing best practices, people can get outside safely and help keep our parks, trails, and public lands open. The Coalition’s website contains numerous tips on how to safely recreate outdoors.

On another bright note, the town of New Shoreham recently passed an ordinance requiring the wearing of facemasks in public areas, including crowded sidewalks, under penalty of fine. Similar measures are being passed in other popular tourist spots. I applaud such rules to protect the general public, and hear that most people are complying. I only wish I had visited Block Island a bit later!

By the way, filming while being mindful of social distancing and other safe practices turns out to have its own set of challenges. Fortunately, most of what we film takes place outdoors, and we try to maintain a distance of at least six feet between the camera and the subject, as well as between me and the subject. The crew all have facemasks at the ready if we need to reduce that space, and hand-sanitizer is in abundant supply. Still, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an inconvenience, or completely without risk. In fact, I chose to play it safe after returning from Block Island, and self-quarantined from my family for several days until I could be tested. The results were negative.




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