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Pros, cons punctuate debate of second-home owners, others seeking virus refuge in Berkshires

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A second-home resident who has been self-quarantining in Stockbridge for more than three weeks acknowledges that she is afraid to pick up groceries.

The reason: Her car bears a New York license plate.

Declining to be identified, the part-time New Yorker said she is afraid of being targeted by "screaming" locals.

Recent advisories from town leaders in Stockbridge and Great Barrington, and from Gov. Charlie Baker, have told travelers to steer clear of the Berkshires, and the state, if they live in high-risk areas such as New York, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Tri-Town Health Department, covering Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, and the Stockbridge Select Board have urged weekenders and other visitors to stay home, and recommended short-term rental hosts and lodging proprietors not to accept bookings from high-risk areas. They urged recent arrivals, such as second-homers, to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from nonessential domestic travel for 14 days.

While many full-time Berkshire County residents have voiced approval of the restrictions, others object.

Here is a sampling of views from town officials and full-time residents:

Great Barrington Town Manager Mark Pruhenski: "This is not the time to visit the Berkshires, and it only puts us all at greater risk during a worldwide pandemic. Please do not travel here seeking isolation. You should shelter in place at your primary residence to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Our hospitals, public safety and local government resources are strained like any other area."

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Great Barrington Select Board Chairman Stephen Bannon: "The recent influx of second-home owners and those seeking short-term rentals continues to impact our ability to provide for all. Under normal circumstances we would welcome everyone, but these are difficult times and our resources are limited. Travelers that choose to come anyway should bring food and supplies with them, self-quarantine for 14-days, send only one family member to shop after that 14-day period has expired, and take advantage of the food delivery options available."

Jean J. Rousseau, Lenox resident and former Stockbridge Finance Committee chairman: "It has been distressing to hear of harassment and abuse, even if only oral, of second-home owners by local citizens on account of coronavirus fears. It is objectionable on Christian, Jewish or Muslim ethical principles for anyone to turn away another in need. But it is especially regrettable that our town officials, in doing that in their diktats, gave no consideration to the participation and value of the second-home owners.

"These now-unwelcome persons provide about two-thirds of each town's tax revenue, make minimal calls on town services, are generous to our not-for-profits out of all proportion to their numbers, and are the lifeblood of the cultural institutions about which we brag to all the world. It is reasonable to ask or insist that our second-home owners take all the precautions we do: temporary self-isolation, social distancing, etc."

The Rev. Sam Smith, rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Stockbridge: "In Christian theology, love of neighbor is a baseline tenet. Second-home owners here in the Berkshires make tremendous contributions to our community, not just through the taxes they pay, but especially through their support of many institutions — cultural, educational and religious — that we cherish.

"It is certainly reasonable to expect those coming here from regions with higher levels of infection to strictly self-quarantine for 14 days out of respect for their Berkshire neighbors; in return, we should not try to bar them from the homes they have created here."

Judith Monachina, Stockbridge resident: "Putting second-home owners and one-time visitors in the same category seems to show an insensitivity to the place of second-home owners in our community as well as a misunderstanding about their commitment many have to the Berkshires. Perhaps more reasonable might be to ask people to pick their shelter-in-place location and stay there, whether here or New York City, and avoid traveling back in forth.

"For first-, second-, third-homers — all of us — we should self-isolate after we have traveled, in particular after having traveled to a hot spot."

Laura Dubester, Stockbridge resident: "We can't prevent people who own homes from coming here. Second-home owners are part of the Stockbridge and Berkshire community. They support our beloved cultural and recreational amenities, pay taxes and frequent local businesses. We are all in this together, and our public officials need to be sensitive and compassionate to everyone in our community and reduce the `divisions' among us."

Elliott Morss, Lenox Finance Committee chairman: "What sort of message do these restrictive messages say to our regular summer visitors? And how will they view us once the virus has passed? Restrictions now will be remembered and definitely cut into the demand from city visitors coming this summer."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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