As Temperature Rises, Social Distancing Rules Tested

By: Ed Maroney

A collection box for homemade non-medical-grade masks is located just outside the post office doors on Main Street. Go to barnstablecountyhealth.org and click on the “Want to Help?” tile to learn more.

ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS – Sunshine and the wide-open expanses of the Cape’s beaches are inviting house-bound social distancers to slip on their sandals and catch a breath of fresh air. What else they might catch if they congregate too closely along the shore is cause for concern. Yarmouth has closed its beaches, Falmouth has chained off its beach parking lots, and the governor has shut down the access road and parking lot at South Cape Beach in Mashpee.

“When the weather was nice, folks were starting to act fairly complacent,” Orleans Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears told the board of selectmen last week. “They’re parking on top of each other.” In response, Sears put up an electronic message board at Nauset Beach that flashes PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCE/BEACH CLOSURE POSSIBLE. “We’re doing everything we can to keep these places open,” Sears said, “but if we continue to witness people at risk, we’ll have to have a conversation about whether to keep these locations open.”

Kent’s Point, a popular conservation preserve, “is another problem area where people are not social distancing,” Selectman Cecil Newcomb said. “They’re having dog birthday parties in the parking lot. There is no social distancing on Kent’s Point at this moment.”

“I took a walk at Kent’s Point the other day and witnessed the same things Cecil did,” Sears said. “It would be unfortunate if we had to close those spots.” The selectmen, in their role as park commissioners, have authority over town beaches while the conservation commission controls lands such as Kent’s Point.

The message seems to be working. Dr. Anne Sigsbee, a retired physician who has joined town officials to present updates on the pandemic via the town website and Channel 18, said Sunday she observed that “people were far apart” at Nauset. “They were (even) distancing their cars with parking.”

Last month, Sigsbee joined the Cape Cod Medical Reserve Corps, a volunteer organization dedicated to strengthening public health, emergency response, and building community resiliency. “Understandably, there’s been a big upsurge in volunteers,” she said, noting that even healthcare workers who have been laid off because elective procedures have been postponed are among those joining the Corps. There are “people from all walks of life,” she said, “waitresses, psychologists, social workers, owners of mechanic’s shops, a whole bunch of retired professionals.”

A principal effort of the Medical Reserve Corps is getting donated equipment such as N95 masks, nitrile gloves, and disinfectant wipes to Cape Cod Hospital, where Sigsbee’s brother works in the ER. “Several of us are getting the word out about where the collection sites are,” she said. The nearest to Orleans is at the Fontaine Outpatient Medical Center on Long Pond Road in Harwich. Go to www.capecodhealth.org/ways-to-give/donating-essential-items-to-protect-local-healthcare-workers/ for details.

Another priority “is working with people all over the Cape who are sewing face masks, which while not medical-grade provide some degree of protection,” Sigsbee said. “The Medical Reserve Corps is working on coordinating the safe collection and distribution of masks to places like nursing homes and food banks and kitchens where staff is working in contact with the community.” She said contacts are being made with grocery stores to provide masks to their employees, and she encouraged such businesses to reach out to Corps Director Diana Gaumond at diana@gaumond@barnstablecounty.org/.

There’s a collection box for homemade masks just in front of the inside entrance to the post office on Main Street. For details about making and donating masks, go to barnstablecountyhealth.org and click on the “Want to Help?” tile.

Giving blood is another way to help. Sigsbee said it’s “very safe” to do so at Cape Cod Hospital, which is arranging appointments over the phone and taking relevant information. “They’re carefully doing distancing from when you arrive through the process. I hope people continue to donate.”

With the nation moving into what experts believe will be a crucial period for ensuring that the pandemic does not outstrip the country’s ability to care for the sick, Sigsbee warned against people “putting on masks and thinking it changes something. It doesn’t change the absolute need to be removed from other people, for social distance, and to wash hands and wash surfaces. The mask probably prevents contamination from one’s own respiration droplets to another, but social distancing remains critical.”

Even with the monumental challenges, Sigsbee said she remains optimistic “because I have confidence that those who are carefully following the data and advising us are optimistic that our behavior matters. When I look around and see people doing what we should be doing, I realize that people are willing to change their behavior based on advice from people who should know. I have always been distressed when opinion-based decision-making prevails, but I see evidence-based decision-making going on.”

As The Chronicle went to press, the Orleans Department of Public Works announced that the transfer station is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., except Wednesdays and Thursdays, for household trash and recycling only. The department is asking townspeople to limit trips, expect delays, pre-sort recyclables, and maintain social distancing of six feet. The Gift House is closed, and the station is not accepting demolition debris, scrap metal, appliances, or bulky items. The DPW thanked Snow’s for donating the use of sign stanchions.