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On Fire Island, keeping coronavirus out means being in on stay-healthy efforts

A man leaves the beach at sunset after

A man leaves the beach at sunset after surf fishing at Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island in 2017. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Some residents of Long Island’s barrier islands are taking a cue from their moniker to keep COVID-19 away from their shores, imposing self-isolation restrictions on seasonal residents and agreeing to unofficial help-thy-neighbor agreements to try to prevent the virus’ spread.

On Fire Island, seasonal residents have been asked via email to self-quarantine for two weeks before arriving. Once on the island, they again are asked to quarantine for another two weeks.  

Residents are also making deals to ensure their neighbors get groceries.

Suzy Goldhirsch, president of the Fire Island Association, a coalition of the 17 communities there that include Kismet, Atlantique, Seaview and Cherry Grove, said the guidelines are not mandatory. She said they were created with the intention of mitigating any chance of both seasonal and year-round residents getting sick.

“I want to avoid any perception of this ‘don’t come here, the locals against the seasonals,’ ” said Goldhirsch, who splits her time between Fire Island and Manhattan. “That’s not what it’s about, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive support from our residents on how we are encouraging people to be responsible.”

Goldhirsch said year-round residents have been advised to adhere to the same guidelines because of the difficulty of leaving the island — which is not accessible by car — and the limited availability of health services during the offseason.  

To limit travel off the island and possible contraction and transfer of the virus, the Fire Island Water Taxi has teamed up with the Seaview Market  to offer free grocery delivery service to communities along Fire Island for a limited time.

Dawn Lippert, 64, a resident of Kismet, said on nice days there has been foot traffic between Robert Moses State Park Field 5 and the Fire Island Lighthouse, which is about a mile from the hamlet. 

“It’s a concern as far as day visitations,” said Lippert, who is president of the Fire Island Year Round Residents Association. “It’s a concern of any kind of park or beach area. How do you control the crowds that do want to come out and want to have some fresh air, which I certainly understand.”

Lippert said as the summer approaches she plans to keep to herself at home and take an occasional walk to the beach. 

In the Gilgo, Oak Beach and Captree communities, the population swells from 417 year-round residents to nearly 1,000 in the summer, said Babylon Town spokesman Kevin Bonner. On Fire Island, 249 people live there year-round, according to U.S. Census data. According to the National Park Service, more than 2.2 million people visit the area annually, going either to one of the Fire Island communities or to the National Seashore facilities. 

More than 291,000 New Yorkers had tested positive for the coronavirus as of  Monday, according to the local and state health departments. Nassau County has 34,865 confirmed cases and Suffolk has 32,470. Nassau has lost 1,620 residents to the coronavirus, while 1,070 Suffolk residents have died, state figures show.

Officials from Brookhaven and Islip towns are awaiting guidelines from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo about beach access. Both towns have several Fire Island communities that fall within their jurisdictions. Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said Suffolk County officials are putting together a group to plan whether and how to reopen beaches and other public facilities.

“A lot of this is reactionary to what the governor’s mandates are going to be,” Carpenter said. “We don’t know, so we’ve been trying to get a handle on that from the town perspective, apart from Fire Island, although it affects them too.”

Bonner said that while town officials are “considering all COVID-19 factors in making a decision about the status of our ocean beaches and marinas for this upcoming season, we do not anticipate that there will be any particular challenges unique to the barrier beach residential communities as it pertains to keeping everyone safe.”

Paul McDuffie, 48, who lives in Gilgo Beach, said the pandemic has helped reinforce the good in people.

“If someone was sick or elderly, prior to the coronavirus, it would be pretty common to just call over and say ‘Hey, I’m running over into town, do you need anything?’ ” said McDuffie, who owns the Gilgo Beach Inn. “We’re all close.”

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