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‘The joke is on us’: Rhode Islanders find themselves unwelcome in nearby states

With cases of COVID-19 rising again, Mass., Conn., NY, and NJ are imposing quarantine orders

Emily Howe and her husband Nate, daughter Julia, 6, and son Samuel, 4, canceled their vacation on Cape Cod and will have a staycation by their pool in Warwick.
Emily Howe and her husband Nate, daughter Julia, 6, and son Samuel, 4, canceled their vacation on Cape Cod and will have a staycation by their pool in Warwick.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

WARWICK, R.I. — Emily Howe usually brings her family from Warwick to Cape Cod in July. But this year, amid the pandemic, she figured they’d wait until more businesses opened in August.

So the Howes planned to head to Dennis Port on Saturday. Her children, ages 4 and 6, were looking forward to devouring vanilla and black raspberry ice cream at the Sundae School Ice Cream shop and eating pancakes at the Wee Packet restaurant.

But on Tuesday, Massachusetts joined Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey in slapping travel restrictions on people traveling from Rhode Island because of rising coronavirus rates. Rhode Islanders who head over the border to visit Massachusetts will have to quarantine for two weeks or produce a negative COVID-19 test within three days of arrival, starting Friday.

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So the Howes will have to settle for a stay-cation. “The joke is on us,” Howe lamented Wednesday. “Waiting did not pay. Time is not on our side.”

Rhode Islanders are fond of repeating the Narragansett Beer slogan: “Hi Neighbor!” But Howe joked that neighboring states have a new motto: “Hi neighbor ― Stay over there! Stay on your side of the fence!”

Rhode Islanders said they were surprised by Rhode Island’s sudden reversal of fortune.

The state had emerged as a national model of how to control the spread of COVID-19. At one point, Rhode Island state troopers were stopping cars with New York license plates, and National Guard members were going door-to-door, telling New Yorkers to quarantine for 14 days. But now it’s Rhode Islanders who are being asked to quarantine or to provide test results.

“It looks like Rhode Island fell off the good list, so now we are going to be treated like everyone else,” said Peter Lacouture, an Exeter resident who just returned from a family home on Cape Cod last week. “It stinks because we are definitely not doing as well as we were.”

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Lacouture said the new travel restrictions show that “we, as Rhode Islanders, need to get our act together.”

He noted that a range of businesses and state beaches are now open as part of Phase 3 of reopening the state economy, but he said the state might need to slow down or scale back the reopening process. If the virus surges, the state economy will crater, he said.

“There has to be a happy medium between Phase 2 and Phase 3,” he said.

During a news conference Wednesday, Governor Gina M. Raimondo said the travel restrictions by neighboring states “should certainly be a wake-up call for the people of Rhode Island that we need to do better.” With the state’s COVID-19 numbers “creeping up,” residents need to be more vigilant about social distancing and wearing face masks, she said.

“Have some Rhode Island pride,” Raimondo said. “I do not like seeing us in red on that map. Let’s make it our business to do the right thing.”

She said Rhode Island will ramp up enforcement of its own travel restrictions, which apply to residents of 33 states. Members of the National Guard and Department of Health will be deployed to T.F. Green Airport and train stations to remind visitors of travel restrictions.

Also, beginning Sunday, anyone checking into hotels and rental properties from out of state must sign certificates of compliance attesting that they’ve had negative test results or intend to quarantine for 14 days, she said.

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Meanwhile, the state will provide rapid COVID-19 testing at the Rhode Island Convention Center so local residents can go ahead with out-of-state vacation plans armed with test results.

Raimondo said the travel restrictions imposed by neighboring states should not be cause for alarm because Rhode Island’s positive test rate remains under 3 percent. And she said that having fewer people traveling will help curtail the spread of the virus.

But Raimondo acknowledged the travel restrictions will hurt the state economy. For example, she said, “For folks who are maybe thinking of coming from Massachusetts to one of our fabulous restaurants in Providence, they will think twice now, and that’s a shame,” she said.

Indeed, business owners say the new restrictions will inflict further damage on the Ocean State’s crucial tourism industry.

“We literally just had a cancellation because of it,” Doug Miller, manager of William’s Grant Inn Bed and Breakfast in Bristol, said Wednesday morning. “Someone planned to come from Massachusetts, and his comment was: ‘I can’t afford to quarantine for 14 days because of my job.‘ ”

Built in 1808, the inn had no guests from March through early June, and it had nearly 100 cancellations for the summer season, Miller said. Guests had started coming back, but the travel restrictions are bound to hurt, he said.


The Admiral Fitzroy Inn in Newport relies on customers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, and owner Brian Fitzgerald said he had already had a cancellation because of the new travel restrictions.

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Since March, the pandemic has damaged Newport’s hotel industry and retail sector, and the new travel restrictions are “just another body blow,” Fitzgerald said, noting they hit at the height of the summer tourist season.

Howe said her family was looking forward to “getting out of the four walls of our house.” They planned to stay at the Cape Cod home owned by her parents and hit the beach. Now, she said, “We will just hang out in our yard ― maybe have some beer by the pool.”

If it’s not safe for her to go to a family summer home at the beginning of August, Howe wonders how it could be safe for her children to return to school at the end of August. She wonders if the economy is reopening too quickly and if beaches should close entirely.

“We want the economy to open, but we want to open it safely,” Howe said. “Now we can’t go anywhere.”


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.