The small Delaware coastal cities of Rehoboth Beach and nearby Lewes are known as popular destinations for LGBTQ summer visitors as well as second home owners and year-round residents.
Similar to their counterparts in other Delaware coastal communities, the LGBTQ supportive mayors of Rehoboth and Lewes are struggling over efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus in an area with just three small hospitals.
The two have said the ongoing public health emergency is forcing them to call on the throngs of out-of-state visitors and second home owners, including LGBTQ people that begin to flock to their cities in the spring and summer, to consider staying away.
“We realize that individuals love to visit the coastal region, and want to visit their second homes for a change of scenery,” said Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns. But Kuhns added, “We ask everyone to please take a proactive approach as we work together to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Kuhns and Lewes Mayor Ted Becker have each pointed to Delaware Gov. John Carney’s updated Declaration of a State of Emergency issued on April 6 ordering the banning of all short-term rental units including vacation home rentals, hotels, motels, and condo rentals to help fight the spread of COVID-19 by discouraging out-of-state visitors from coming to the beach towns. The ban was put in place until May 15, but state observers expect Carney to extend it beyond that date.
Kuhns and Becker told the Washington Blade that the governor’s declaration doesn’t include an outright ban on out-of-state visitors or second home owners or long-term renters from coming to Rehoboth or Lewes. But the two noted that an earlier version of the governor’s declaration, which is still in effect also until May 15, requires all out-of-state people coming into any part of Delaware to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The Delaware News, a state daily newspaper, has reported that Rehoboth police and Delaware State Police have been enforcing the 14-day quarantine order by “monitoring” and sometimes stopping cars entering the Rehoboth city limits with out-of-state license plates to make “inquires” about the visitors’ ability to self-quarantine. Delaware police in other small towns have pulled over drivers with out-of-state tags. One such Maryland driver who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said he was pulled over in Dagsboro, Del., a small town in Sussex County, while driving to his second home. An officer questioned him about his destination and finger-printed the driver.
“We are in a health emergency,” Kuhns told the Blade in an email message. “We are following the guidance of the Governor and his staff as they work together with five other states in his regional coalition,” Kuhns said.
“We have made difficult decisions, closing the beach and boardwalk to all activities including exercising and dog walking, playgrounds, and non-essential businesses, for the health and safety of our community,” he said. “The healthcare infrastructure is somewhat limited here, and it can handle the people that live in the area, but it becomes very heavily taxed if it’s very crowded, and that’s a big fear,” Kuhns said.
“There is a rationale behind this,” said Mayor Becker of Lewes. “It is not to be punitive but it’s to preserve the medical resources that are here, recognizing that there are many, many people that are part-time residents from major metropolitan areas where there are more medical resources,” he said.
Becker and Kuhns noted that like D.C and other major metropolitan areas, the Delaware governor’s emergency declaration also required the closing of all non-essential businesses such as most retail stores, restaurants except for carryout food service, and bars and theaters.
Among the offices forced to close is Rehoboth’s LGBTQ community services center CAMP Rehoboth. Chris Beagle, the organization’s board president, said many of its programs are operating remotely or with virtual meetings and events.
The Washington Blade has postponed its annual Rehoboth Summer Kickoff Party held at the popular gay bar and restaurant Blue Moon, which had been scheduled for May 15 featuring an appearance by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester. The tentative new date for the event, which is being listed as an end-of-summer party, is Sept. 11, one week after Labor Day weekend.
D.C. gay attorney Ed Grandis along with his husband bought a second home on the outskirts of Rehoboth Beach more than 10 years ago. Grandis said he and his husband decided to temporarily leave D.C. to stay in their Rehoboth home. He said his law practice in D.C. came to a near standstill due to coronavirus shutdowns and restrictions. He is conducting services for his few remaining clients remotely from Rehoboth, he told the Blade.
Grandis said he fully agrees with the sentiment of full-time Rehoboth residents that summer renters, visitors and even home owners should postpone plans for coming to Rehoboth and other nearby beach communities until the epidemic subsides.
“My sympathy is for protecting life,” he said. “If we have to be a bit draconian for health reasons that may be something we need to do.”