LGBTQ D.C. residents are among those who may cancel or postpone vacations to Rehoboth Beach and other Delaware shore areas in response to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s order last week to require city residents to self-quarantine for 14 days when they return from “non-essential” travel to states considered at high-risk for contracting the coronavirus.
In a statement released on Monday, the D.C. Department of Health listed Delaware as one of 27 high-risk states from which District residents would have to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return if their travel is deemed non-essential. The mayor said vacation related travel is among the non-essential categories included in her order.
Veteran D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate Peter Rosenstein, who has a second home in Rehoboth, said he was concerned that the mayor’s order will prompt many D.C. residents to cancel plans to visit Rehoboth this summer. Rosenstein said those cancelations would further harm small businesses in Rehoboth, including LGBTQ supportive businesses, such as bars, restaurants and retail stores that have been struggling with restrictions related to the epidemic. “But I understand why the mayor made her order,” he said.
Former D.C. resident David Mariner, who was named last year as executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBTQ community services center, said the number of summer visitors to Rehoboth from D.C. and other places has dropped considerably in the months prior to the Bowser quarantine order.
“Overall it’s been a quiet summer on Baltimore Avenue and at the beach in general,” Mariner said in referring to the street where CAMP Rehoboth and several popular LGBTQ supportive bars and restaurants are located. “But the good news is parking is readily available,” he said.
“Over the past month or so I’ve seen a lot of friends from D.C. come visit and I would definitely be sad to see that stop,” he said. “However, I support the mayor in doing what she thinks is best for Washington, D.C. at this time. It’s an unfortunate reality of the times we live in.”
Ted Becker, the mayor of nearby Lewes, Del., where many D.C. residents also have summer homes, said Lewes and other nearby beach towns have already felt the impact earlier this year of similar quarantine orders issued by the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
“The D.C. order is relatively new so it’s hard to say how much impact it will ultimately have,” he said. “I do not see the gay/LGBT community being any more adversely impacted than the rest of the community,” he said. “I think the rental community in general is very strong with many renters opting when available to stay longer.”
Becker’s observation that at least some out-of-state residents with ties to the Delaware beach area are extending their stays in the beach communities is supported by D.C. resident and diversity consulting firm owner Wes Combs, who has a second home in Rehoboth. Combs told the Blade he and his husband have been staying at their Rehoboth home since March, working on their respective D.C. jobs remotely.
“I think it’s extremely disappointing to see that Delaware was the only state in the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast that was on the list,” he said in referring to D.C.’s high-risk state list. “I certainly understand where the mayor is coming from with the intent of this decision. But I will tell you that this whole pandemic has been devastating to small business owners and even larger business owners here in Rehoboth,” he said.
Combs said the inclusion of Delaware on the D.C. list of restricted states could unfairly penalize D.C. residents who choose to safely distance themselves from the larger concentration of people in D.C. by visiting Rehoboth and other nearby get-away places. He said that as long as people follow the precautions recommended by experts such as wearing masks and social distancing from other people, they are not likely to be at greater risk of contracting the virus than are people visiting states that are not in the so-called high-risk category.
Gay attorney and Lewes resident Mitch Crane said the COVID-19 statistics in Delaware are largely driven by cases reported at nursing homes, prisons, and the poultry processing industry. Crane said beach area businesses have “suffered greatly” since the outset of the epidemic and that LGBT supportive businesses are among those at risk of not surviving.
“The LGBTQ owned and friendly businesses depend on members of our community who live or work in D.C.,” he said. “If business continues to suffer, they will survive through the season, but many will not survive the off season and will not be back next year.”
Shortly before issuing her quarantine order Bowser issued a separate order requiring city residents and visitors to wear masks whenever they are outdoors and at all times in public places such as stores and public buildings.
“We want residents to take a look at the list and to make smart and safe decisions about traveling and be mindful about how traveling could affect our community,” Bowser said on Wednesday in discussing her quarantine order at a press conference.
“Now is just not the time to travel to many locations where the virus is circulating and where you are more likely to be exposed, infected and then bring back that infection and that virus to others,” she said.