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Every weekday morning WCAI brings you coverage of local issues, news, and stories that matter. Join us for Morning Edition from 6 a.m. to 9a.m., with Kathryn Eident and Brian Morris.

Provincetown Shelters in Place to Slow Spread of Coronavirus


Wednesday was the first full day Governor Charlie Baker's order to close all non-essential businesses was in effect. But Provincetown, and several other local towns, issued even stricter limitations in the hope of stemming the spread of COVID-19 before Baker issued his new restrictions.

WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Steve Katsurinis, Board of Health Chairman in Provincetown, about the town's emergency shelter-in-place order that went into effect Monday.   

Eident What prompted you and your colleagues to make such an order?

Katsurinis Well, Provincetown has long been a hub for people. We saw a lot of people coming to Provincetown and we have businesses here also that serve sort of the whole Outer Cape region, Stop & Shop being one of them, Curaleaf being the other.

And so, there was concern about too many people on the streets, not necessarily maintaining the proper distance. And, I think there was a hope by everybody involved, including me, that the governor would act. But, we had some indication that was not something that the governor was prepared to do. And so, the selectboard decided that they need to declare an emergency. And then the Board of Health issued the shelter-in-place order.

And I want to make sure that people understand what the shelter-in-place means. It doesn't mean that for everyone that they have to stay inside and not go out of their homes for any reason. There are very specific reasons, including maybe not completely intuitively, that you could go out for exercise to be in the sun, be on the beach; just maintain that 6-foot distance. Food for take out or delivery or food from grocery stores--that's all appropriate reasons to go out as well to get the medical care. You know, there's really two diseases here. The one is the COVID-19 virus and the illness that follows it. And the other is people maintaining their spirits, their mental health safety. So we are trying to balance the two and make sure that we come all come through this together.

Eident Are you hearing that people are honoring this shelter-in-place restriction?

Katsurinis We are seeing that and it's exactly what we expected. People are scared. Very few people in Provincetown think that this is something that doesn't affect them. I do hear from people who say, "Well, I'm young and I don't feel like I'm going to be very ill from this. But, I'm worried about my older neighbors." We have a older population across the whole Cape. And so, it's heartening also to see that people are thinking of their neighbors, and their friends, and their grandparents first and recognizing that this is hard. This is very hard for people. Our lives have never been like this. Nobody alive today really has ever experienced anything like this. And yet, people are putting others first. And so compliance has been very high.

Eident Do you have any enforcement measures that you would need to put in place if people start to disobey this? And, you know, jam Commercial Street or something like that?

Katsurinis The public health order to shelter in place is an enforceable emergency order. And it does have punishment. We're very lucky. And, I think this is probably true across the Cape, as well. Once people are educated, and once people are told what is appropriate and what's not appropriate, people are well-intended. They're not looking for reasons to flout this or to ignore it. And so, we don't expect to have to use the enforcement mechanisms that are written into the order. They are there. There are fines. And ultimately, potentially somebody if is extremely willful, they could be arrested. I don't imagine that that will happen.

Eident You know, I was just talking with Senator Julian Cyr, who has some concerns, of course, about the entire region he represents, but especially about the outer Cape, Provincetown and the Islands with being more remote and more rural. Do you see Provincetown at a disadvantage in this pandemic with medical services and testing rather far away?

Katsurinis I don't actually. It's hard to know the future. But, I do know that through Outer Cape Health Services and non-profits that are working in town to care for people with certain illnesses, we are very fortunate to have, for a rural community of maybe 2800 year-round residents. We have an amazing healthcare system and delivery. We have very talented staff at the Department of Health. And of course, technology allows us to really extend our reach even further. So, it's not that our system is somehow substandard because it's definitely not. It's that the system becomes overwhelmed.

That's always been a concern. We've been modeling disasters like this in emergencies like nuclear power plant meltdown, hurricane comes Fourth of July. We've been very much a part of all of the planning to anticipate the kinds of situations that we're seeing now. Our health care system is as robust as it can be considering the physical limitations. And so I understand, Senator Cyr's concern is that we're physically remote. However, we we do have really great health care services available. And if we can flatten the curve, as everybody's been saying, then we can make sure that we don't overwhelm our system and that people are able to get the care they need.

Eident Just finally, you're a business owner yourself. How are you doing now that your business, I'm sure, has just been brought to zero?

Katsurinis It has. As have almost all the businesses in Provincetown, and one of things I want to say is that we're also very fortunate to have, I think, a very heroic group of people leading these businesses. They're very selfless. And, before the governor even announced any kind of order, the Provincetown innkeepers had said,"We need to shut down."

You know, it's not appropriate for people to come here during this time. We understand Provincetown as a place of refuge and has been since 1620. However, we know that people are best served if they're near their primary care physicians. And so, having tourists and visitors come and stay doesn't make sense.

The restaurants, some of whom definitely not in their interest to remain open during this time, are staying open to provide takeout and delivery. And, we really respect that. The Cape, I think, is a little bit in a better position than some other places because this is our lower season. And while April always shows some promise of the coming season and historically for us in Provincetown, those visitors are international. So, we realized a month ago that they weren't coming, so we'd had some opportunity to adjust and adjust our expectations. Our bank, especially Seamans Bank, has been very supportive of the business community. Community Coastal Capital, which is the small business local lender on the Cape, has also been great about reaching out.

Katsurinis Well, it certainly sounds like businesses and the community in Provincetown has come together in trying to stem the spread of COVID-19. Steve. Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk this morning. I really appreciate it.

Katsurinis My pleasure. Thank you for what you do.

This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.