At a joint meeting Monday, the Essex Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health voted to lift emergency restrictions prohibiting seasonal residents from returning to Conomo Point following public health concerns from crowding at the popular and scenic area in light of COVID-19 precautions.
Seasonal residents of Conomo Point whose re-occupancy was delayed may now move in for the summer, but the boards cautioned they should do so with common sense and safety in mind.
“If you’re coming from out of town or out of county, you’re being asked to quarantine, not ordered to quarantine. If the governor lifts his order, we’ll still ask that you adhere to best practices.”
It was three weeks ago, on April 8, that the same boards instituted an emergency “Temporary Moratorium on Seasonal Occupancy at Conomo Point During State of Emergency Due to COVID-19,” barred non-residents and seasonal residents of Conomo Point with deed and lease-prescribed occupancy limits beginning April 15 from access starting from the beginning of Conomo Point Road.
Conomo Point continues to be open only to Essex residents, excepting Gloucester commercial shellfish harvesters with a valid license, and permitted contractors.
The loosening of the restrictions only applies to seasonal residents and to any mooring holder who needs to access their mooring from Conomo Point, including the opening of the Conomo Lane parking lot for mooring holders, with a valid dashboard pass, only. Non-Essex residents are still barred from Conomo Point until the state lifts its emergency order, which as of Tuesday was extended by Gov. Charlie Baker from May 4 to May 18. But on Monday, the move was welcomed, with many on the public meeting conference call (who hadn’t appropriately muted their phones as instructed) could be heard audibly letting out yelps of joy at the decision. But town officials said they were proceeding cautiously. After all, the BOS, BOH and public safety officials—particularly the police department and other frontline officials responsible for managing compliance and COVID emergencies—became increasingly concerned as the estimated 100-resident offseason population moved closer to summer, when Conomo Point swells to approximately 400 residents.
“I feel satisfied, although I say that apprehensively,” said Essex Police Chief Paul Francis when asked if his department was comfortable with the move. “As long as people are practicing safe distancing and quarantine, we’ll be good.”
The BOH was less sanguine. Massachusetts is a hotspot nationally for COVID-19 infections, BOH Chairman (and physician) David Driscoll, Md, said. As of Monday’s meeting, he told the BOS, half of the nation’s COVID-19 positive cases were in three states—New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. More than 56,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths in the Commonwealth had been tallied, with 7,708 of them here in Essex County. What happens when out-of-staters from low COVID rate parts of the country coming to a high incident state like Massachusetts, he asked.
“(For them,) coming to Conomo Point is like running into a burning house,” he said. “It’s a difficult time right now. We have no playbook.”
The vote nevertheless passed, with the BOH further voting to authorize the Essex Health Agent to work with the Conomo Point Association to issue guidance suggesting that any person coming from outside Essex County before April 8 self-quarantine on their homes for 14 consecutive days from the date of their arrival.
This is a suggestion, not an order, Town Counsel Gregg Corbo said at the meeting. But if a returning seasonal resident is diagnosed with COVID-19, he said, they are mandated to remain in isolation and register with the town’s heath agent and remain there “until a public health authority (the Massachusetts Department of Public Health or your local Board of Health) states they may leave their home.”
Three weeks ago, Conomo Point homeowner and the neighborhood’s association president, Robert Sisk, pressed the boards to allow residents do the right thing on their own, without formal mandates. He said out-of-state seasonal deed holders would be asked to delay their returns until Massachusetts had lifted its emergency order. At the time, his request was denied. Last night, Sisk repeated the offer even as the boards were relaxing their restrictions. The association will be still be asking out of state residents to stay home until the emergency order is lifted statewide on May 18.