Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo made something of a name for herself earlier this by being a “bad neighbor” to various states adjacent to hers. At the height of the pandemic, she was seen doing her level best to keep “outsiders” (particularly from New York and Connecticut) from entering her state or locking them down in quarantine if they dared to cross the border. But now, at the peak of what should be the summer tourist season along beaches in the northeast, the shoe appears to be on the other foot.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island has been spiraling upward. And that means that neighboring states are no longer welcoming tourists from Raimondo’s state without some rather extreme precautions being put in place. The Boston Globe brings us the story of one family, the Howes, who had been planning a summer getaway to Cape Cod. But Massachusetts has now joined the list of states that don’t want anyone from Rhode Island coming for a visit unless they either spend two weeks in quarantine or produce a certificate showing they are free of the virus. And this has led Emily Howe to say that “the joke’s on us.”
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.
Raimondo had made it a point of pride back in the spring and early summer to brag about Rhode Island’s low number of COVID cases, using that as a defense for the police-state tactics she had put in place to keep the spread of the disease under control. And those tactics were severe indeed.
As you may recall, back in March, the Rhode Island Governor had sent out the state police to pull over cars with New York license plates. Travelers were warned to either turn around or inform authorities where they would be staying. Visitors from the Empire State were told that they would have to remain in quarantine for two weeks if they chose to enter the state. She even deployed the National Guard to check up on tourists and ensure they were staying in their vacation residences. A failure to do so could result in fines or even potential jail time.
But now the worm has turned. After a brief relapse, New York’s numbers have been trending downward again. The situation out in the Hamptons on Long Island has never seen a big surge in cases and they plan to keep it that way. The same goes for Cape Cod. So they don’t want to spoil their reopening plans by inviting in visitors from Rhode Island if it’s threatening to turn into another plague zone.
The bigger question for Rhode Island has less to do with how easily residents can go to tourist destinations outside the state than how these recent developments will impact their own reopening plans. Keep in mind that the state moved into “Phase 3” of its reopening plans back on June 30th. It’s been more than a month now, and the locals had been anticipating even more progress by the end of August. But at this point, they’re looking at the possibility of actually sliding backward into “a happy medium between Phase 2 and Phase 3.” (I’m not sure how well the word “happy” fits into that phrase.)
Raimondo had been one of the Governor’s with the lowest approval ratings in the country before the pandemic arrived. Her hard-nosed approach to keeping the disease at bay actually helped her improve her standing among the voters for a few months. But if the state does a u-turn and goes back into the danger zone now, the improved goodwill she saw from Rhode Islanders will probably be short-lived.