Three women sit at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays on...

Three women sit at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays on March 26. Credit: James Carbone

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Sunday that he hadn’t heard any local concerns about New York City residents fleeing to the Hamptons during the COVID-19 crisis, but 10 East End officials sent him a letter late last month asking him to ban nonessential travel there for that reason.

Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman was one of 10 local supervisors, mayors and Shinnecock Indian Nation leaders who wrote Cuomo March 27 asking him to “consider placing temporary limitations on non-essential travel from New York City to our area" out of concern for rising infections. 

Schneiderman, while applauding Cuomo’s work on managing the coronavirus outbreak, said on Sunday: “We certainly wrote him a letter urging him to consider restrictions on travel. We were told it was being forwarded to him with urgency.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has given local municipalities the ability to further restrict hotels, guesthouses or private homes to accept seasonal tenants, an issue raised by East End officials.

When asked if he had considered such an order, Cuomo during his daily pandemic briefing Sunday said no, but added, "I'll take a look at the New Jersey order."

“I haven’t heard any local officials raise concerns about that here,” Cuomo also said. 

Cuomo's office didn’t immediately respond to a Newsday request for clarification. 

The letter from the East End officials had laid out the issue.

“With ‘non-essential’ employees directed to stay home, our East End communities are seeing a surge in population as seasonal residents are seeking to leave the NY metropolitan area and spend this period of 'social distancing' in their summer home communities,” the letter stated.

“As leaders of East End Towns, Villages and Tribal Government, we are growing increasingly concerned with our local ability to manage the added strain to our local health care system, food markets and other essential businesses needed to maintain the health and safety of our residents.”

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the situation has gotten worse since the letter was sent.

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“The strains put on our first responders, who are mostly volunteer, and our health care facilities are more than a small town should be expected to observe,” he said Sunday.

He added that the concern was to stop renters “looking to escape” New York City by coming to the North Fork and banning unnecessary day trips, rather than focused on second homeowners.

Schneiderman on Sunday said “at this point it’s too late” for an order to ban New York City residents from holing up in the Hamptons. Most seasonal rentals and summer homes are full, he said.

Cases of COVID-19 have increased to 191 in Southampton as of Sunday, according to Suffolk County figures, up from 59 when Schneiderman signed the letter a week ago. “At this point people are asking me to put restrictions on the rental market,” Schneiderman said.

He added a restriction on day trippers to the Hamptons could prove helpful, as beaches and other popular venues are seeing an uptick in visitors.

The week Schneiderman and others wrote their letter, the parking lot at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays showed a healthy noontime crowd, with a steady stream of walkers and joggers cresting the nearby Ponquogue Bridge on their way over.

Homes that were normally shuttered until Memorial Day sported rows of Audis, BMWs and Range Rovers. Grocery stores like IGA and Citarella were just catching up to the unusual spring rush, which had cleared shelves of meat, cleaning products and toilet paper.

The Shinnecock Nation and Southampton Town itself devised makeshift services to get essential goods to tribal residents and seniors.

Flocks of typically summer-only residents and renters began swarming the Hamptons early in March, many fleeing COVID-19 hot spots in the city and troubling some local residents and officials who point to rising infection levels on the East End.

With New York City considered an epicenter for COVID-19, many had fled to eastern or northern getaways, leaving places like East Hampton and Southampton worried about the impact on year-round residents and local infrastructure. 

In their letter to Cuomo, East End leaders asked him to consider even short-term restrictions on "daily sightseeing visits and leisure travel to vacation homes," adding, "We are not looking to restrict seasonal residents from using their properties for residential purposes, but we hope that they will adhere to the federal recommendation of self-quarantine, and we hope they will understand the limitations of our local health care system and infrastructure."

Scheiderman at the time said the issue came down to the ability to handle the influx. 

“Our population doubles in the summer but not in March or April,” he said. “It’s very challenging for us.”

The concern was mirrored by year-round residents.

“A lot of people who are local are really upset to go by the beach and see the parking lot is totally packed. People are everywhere,” said Bonnie Brady, a Montauk resident and recent East Hampton Town Council candidate. “Our infrastructure isn’t made for that year-round.”

She said it took her a week of checking before meat was available at the Montauk IGA. There was plenty of meat on hand at the store Thursday, though toilet paper was nowhere to be found. Cash registers sported newly installed glass guards.

Nichol Dennis-Banks, a former Shinnecock Indian Nation tribal leader, said she was concerned the region’s and the tribe’s limited health resources amid the population spike could quickly overwhelm them. She wants state health officials to provide testing kits specifically for the nation, which is adjacent to a quarantine site in the dormitories of Stony Brook Southampton.

“If we go to the Stop & Shop and intermingle with someone from New York City who has it, we could bring COVID-19 back to the reservation,” she said.  “Not to provide us with test kits is an injustice.”

For East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, the problem was not necessarily the influx of Manhattanites but the daily “trade-parade” of construction crews and landscapers from western Long Island into the Hamptons. Van Scoyoc didn't sign the letter to Cuomo asking for restrictions on nonessential travel from New York City to the East End, saying he was concerned about all travel into the region, not just Manhattanites.

His concern was alleviated last month when Cuomo issued a statewide ban on all nonessential construction. Van Scoyoc said town police, code enforcers and other employees would visit job sites alerting construction crews of the order and telling them to cease work. 

Van Scoyoc said he didn’t sign on to the other supervisors’ letter urging limits on nonessential travel because he didn’t want to “make a scapegoat” of Manhatannites. Most are observing 14-day quarantines, he said, and he noted business districts and parks have remained closed and were largely unoccupied.

 The town has a year-round population of around 23,000 and has 50,000 to 70,000 second-home or rentals, and Van Scoyoc said he had heard anecdotally that many of those second homes were occupied.

“I don’t see it as a problem if people are staying home,” he said.

With David M. Schwartz

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