NOTE FROM MIKE: The below is a post from Rob Anderson, co-owner of The Canteen. Rob has become a strong voice in town while managing to fairly represent many lines of thought. If you seriously want to look at the thinking behind what our Town must do to prepare for summer this is a must read.
LET’S START OUR PREPARATIONS FOR THE SUMMER IN PROVINCETOWN by first agreeing on what our vision for the summer is.
At the moment, there are three competing visions about what summer in Provincetown should look like this year, and what we should be focusing on as it quickly approaches. (Remember, the official start of the summer season is only 12 days away.)
I’ve done my best to sum up those three competing visions, fairly and accurately. Of course, the reality is complicated and messy. But here goes:
1. SALVAGE THE SUMMER
Some people are first and foremost worried about the economic viability of town and their own ability, as this crisis stretches on and on, to pay their bills and put food on their tables. This isn’t a monolithic group of people. Sure, some deny the seriousness or validity of this virus; but many don’t.
Some of these folks are business owners with mortgages and rents to pay. Some already operate on thin margins and rocky economic outlooks in the best of times. They worry that the businesses they have poured their hearts and souls and financial savings into won’t be able to survive a slow summer. They also have employees they have worked with for years whom they wish to keep paying, because they know what that paycheck means to them and their families.
Some of these folks are the workers themselves, many of whom have already spent the entire winter and fall making very low wages or living off unemployment checks. They count on the summer months to pay their rent for the year; to pay for medical procedures that, absurdly, aren’t covered by our nation’s health care system; to pay for food and other basic necessities; to pay for their kids’ shoes and toothpaste.
Some of them are undocumented workers who can’t collect unemployment or receive healthcare benefits at all.
And, of course, some of them are people who believe our reaction to the virus has been an over-reaction. Or a way for the government to impose martial law. Or they believe they will survive what’s just a really bad flu, so what’s the point of destroying our economy in the meantime?
2. SHUT DOWN PROVINCETOWN
On the other side of the scale are people calling for a complete shutdown of Provincetown for the summer. They argue that making money this summer will come at the cost of our community’s health. How many infections, and how many deaths, they want to know, are we willing to cause so that we can salvage our summer? Two? Twenty? Two hundred?
Like the group above, this is also not a monolithic group of people.
Many are older or immunocompromised themselves and are literally scared for their lives. Or they are scared for the lives of their loved ones.
Many have been strictly following self-quarantine rules these past few months — and have seen how successful we’ve been at reducing infections here on Cape Cod by doing so — and don’t want to see all that effort blown so that groups of cooped up visitors can eat ice cream and snap selfies on the pier.
Many are very worried about two specific realities that long-term residents of the Outer Cape struggle with daily and seasonally:
1) The difficulty of accessing consistent, prompt, and high-quality health care when you need it. (As someone who moved here 10 years ago from a big city, I can attest that even as a relatively young, healthy person, this is incredibly frustrating and scary. And as unfair as it might sound, you don’t get it until you live here full time and have a health scare.)
2) The feeling that your home is no longer yours every year when the summer rolls around. While 75% of our summer visitors to the Outer Cape are understanding and thoughtful people, 25% aren’t. Over time, those 25% can really wear us down. It erodes your feeling of safety and security. It compromises your feeling of “home.”
Many of these people are also business owners or workers, or those advocating on behalf of them, who are worried that if we open the floodgates this summer, it will be the people on the frontlines of welcoming visitors who are at the most risk of contracting the virus.
The gist of this argument was succinctly captured by the “Protect Our Town – Shut It Down” protesters in front of town hall last weekend, who explained their motivation online:
“Provincetown does not have the capacity to safely welcome visitors to our tiny village for the 2020 summer season. Entry to town should be restricted to residents ONLY. Provincetown’s Commercial Street, intimate entertainment venues, restaurants, and B&B’s are not equipped to ‘social distance’ safely and, based on reporting from local businesses, we have failed at it, even in these very early opening days.”
3. THE BALANCING ACT
In reality, this last category doesn’t capture just one group. It’s a catch-all for the 3,634 other opinions that fall in between the first two.
This group of people hope we can somehow find a balance between keeping our community safe and keeping it economically strong, or at least hobbling along, this year. That somehow by thinking through and effectively enforcing rules and regulations, we can re-open our economy and still limit the spread of the virus here.
That’s all I can really say to sum up this group. Because although I do believe the majority of us fall within this category, there is no one yet publicly articulating what this vision looks like in general, and, specifically, how we will get there. Unlike the other two polar arguments, which have been made forcefully — and have been attacked and defended over and over again just as ferociously — the middle ground is still undefined. We’re waiting. On the federal government. (Ha.) On Governor Baker. On the Cape Cod’s task force. On town hall, the select board, our board of health, our own task force.
I wish I had more to sum up here. But I’m afraid I don’t. (And remember, the official start of the summer season is only 12 days away!)
So let’s run a thought experiment. Let’s try to fill in the blanks. Let’s create a vision of what that “perfect” summer would look like if we could just make it materialize by writing it down in black and white.
This is my first draft. I encourage you to make your own suggestions, edits, additions in the comment section. Or your own document altogether. Start with my first paragraph and fill in your own blanks.
In other words, if I’ve missed something, don’t get mad; just add. (I am readily admitting that I typed this up quickly, with “hot fingers.” You don’t need to comment, “So what’s YOUR PLAN?” or “YOU FORGOT X, Y AND Z!!!”) A document like this can only be accurate if done in collaboration. I have started by making broad, general, sweeping generalizations here. My next step will be to get more granular and fill in the blanks even more. (That will happen in my next post.) Here goes:
A VISION OF A “BALANCED” PROVINCETOWN SUMMER
It’s August 31 and we’ve almost made it to the end of a Provincetown summer in the age of the coronavirus. Provincetown has alway been a unique town, and this year is no different, but in a very different kind of way: While other places across the country have struggled with the balancing act of keeping their economies running and keeping their communities safe, we have managed to accomplish all of it:
WE SAFELY OPENED FOR BUSINESS
Businesses are open and making enough money to survive. Every single business that was able to open followed social distancing measures that greatly limited the spread of the virus while still allowing them to make money. We were nimble, innovative, smart and well-considered.
Restaurants followed cleanliness and safety procedures to a T to keep their workers and their guests safe. Each perfected systems of to-go ordering — online sales, call-ahead ordering, curbside pickup — and seating and serving guests in a way that allowed them to remain distant from others and safe.
Inns and guest houses were able to ensure all their rooms and common spaces would be perfectly safe and developed measures to keep guests distant from each other. They were able to communicate those measures to attract people here, and able to carry out those measures while they were in town.
Through a combination of in-store sales and online shopping, retail stores did enough business to make it through the year; even though many of Provincetown’s shops are usually crammed and chock full of people and items, they were able to redesign their spaces and displays to allow customers to pass through, browse and make purchases.
Through the use of protective equipment and new safety procedures, those who provide services like haircuts and massages were able to resume their work and appointments while keeping themselves and their clients safe.
And even services that serve the summertime tourist populations — dune tours, fishing charters, kayak rentals — were able to develop new routines and safety measures so that engaging in these leisurely past-times were made possible.
The arts community flourished throughout the summer, albeit in new ways. Theater, drag and musical performances were produced in new spaces so that safe distances could be kept. Many moved online as well. Galleries, too, were able to enforce the rules of social distancing in person and make online sales to make it through the summer.
Because everything was so well planned, well thought out, and communicated — and because our level of business perfectly matched all of town’s staffing levels and all employees were so well trained — none of our workers were put at risk by doing the work necessary to keep town running.
WE LOOKED AFTER THOSE WHO WERE OUT OF BUSINESS
Still, even with all of these businesses open and innovating new ways to stay open in safe ways, not everyone who usually benefits from a booming summer economy was able to. Thankfully, we were able to help those people through these difficult times. Unemployment benefits flowed to help those who couldn’t find work; government programs and private funds made available to businesses and individuals meant that it was easier to make ends meet for those whose sales and salaries were way down or non-existent. A well-coordinated free meal and food pantry system was developed so that those needing help accessing fresh, healthy foods could; no one went hungry. Banks were lenient on mortgages. Landlords reduced or eliminated rents.
WE MANAGED VISITORS, PUBLIC SPACES AND SERVICES WELL
Visitors continued to travel to and from Provincetown in just the right levels. There were never too many people in town — on our streets, on our beaches, on our bike and walking trails — so that social distancing and safety measures were alway possible. All masks were worn when required or needed, and 6 foot distances were strictly self-imposed. Everyone was polite, respectful and accommodating, understanding that we are all in this together. Although disposable items proliferated — masks and gloves, to go containers and flatware, all that become dangerous after use — they were all disposed of properly, and brought to the dump to be send to landfills or recycled properly.
All individuals who were carrying the virus or may be carriers knew to stay away from non-essential travel and not come to town at all, or if they were already in town, were able to effectively quarantine and not infect others. Our ability to accurately test and trace infections soared, allowing us to keep as safe as possible even knowing some people might be infected.
All of our front line safety and medical workers met the increased population with ease. We had enough police officers, EMT workers, and firefighters trained in new procedures to keep the town safe and medical workers and facilities to keep us healthy. And because staffing levels were perfectly matched to town population, these workers were never put at risk.
OUR HEALTH OUTCOMES REMAINED POSITIVE
Because all of these measures worked out perfectly, we were able to keep infections here on the Outer Cape to a very small number. Our older population and those who are immunocompromised never saw widespread infections, and our working population who were face to face with hundreds of people each day were able to remain safe.
Because we were able to flatten the curve here, even those who were infected were able to receive proper medical care in facilities able to manage the infections to the best of their ability. Mortality rates dropped as we learned more about the virus and how to better treat it.
Although we are now at the end of the summer, we are all sighing in relief. In another world, we could have been facing economic disaster or a spike in infections based on our summer activity. But we are sleeping well these days knowing that we are doing our best to keep our economy running while protecting our health.
To be honest, I had a hard time writing this and keeping a straight face. It’s overwhelming. As someone who has been running a business every day of the pandemic, this vision raises so many more questions than it does answers — especially because I know what it takes to run a business and to try to lead a healthy life –mentally, physically, financially — here in Provincetown in the summer.
My first gut reaction after completing this exercise is the feeling that the likelihood of this ever happening here as written above is remote.
(My own experience trying to create and enforce these outcomes add to this skepticism. You can read more about that here:
As I read over what I’ve written, it becomes more clear how prepared we would need to be to make things run in this ideal form: we need pages and pages and pages of well-thought out, well-communicated, highly followed, highly enforced new systems and ways of operating. We don’t need them next week — we need them last week. (Remember, the official start of the summer season is only 12 days away.)
Then each of us — every business, every individual — would need the time to implement these ideas and changes. To let them sink in. We would need a “soft launch,”of course, so that we’d have time to work out kinks, make changes, hire people, train people, fix scheduling, find housing, create new roles and positions, buy and receive and learn how to properly use new equipment. (It took me 2 weeks to get effective masks. I ordered more. They’ll be here in three weeks.) All of this takes time and a lot of effort. Communication. Co-operation. Good faith. Smarts.
And then this all assumes that when people start coming, everything just goes to plan. When has anything ever gone to plan in Provincetown? Without a hitch? With everyone on the same page? And with 100% compliance?
Did you have the same thoughts and experience reading it? Does it not seem overwhelming to you?
All this being said, I am obviously not privy to what’s happening in the governor’s office and in town hall meetings. I am not a member of the recovery task force or the board of health or the select board. Maybe I am grossly underestimating the number of thorough guidelines for all sectors of the workforce that are about to be announced. Maybe I am grossly underestimating the streamlined, high level of coordination and communication that is already under works. Maybe I just haven’t heard of the federal, state, and local programs for food distribution, economic stimulus and health infrastructure in the pipeline. I hope once I publish this all of these questions become clear and I am just unaware of all of this already happening.
And there’s also a chance that none of this could matter. If, for example, a large crowd of people jam into town this Memorial Day weekend, we are unprepared to deal with them, and many are “noncompliant,” there’s a chance we’ll see a large spike in infections in 4-6 weeks. At that point, we’d all just have to close down. There’d be nothing to talk about.
Or maybe on May 18th the governor will announce all of the regulations we need to follow and the thinking will be done for us. Maybe!
My next post will be a series of recommendations I think could help us achieve an “ideal” situation here in Provincetown. To be clear, I am not sure it would work. But I think it’s an important process to at least run through the ideas, get into the nitty gritty of how we could achieve the impossible over the next few months. Let’s at least game it out to see what it could look like.
I look forward to reading your feedback and your own visions of what a “perfect” summer would look like.- Rob Anderson