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Summer in Review: Tourism Better Than Expected; COVID-19 Low, But Rising

Liz Lerner
Traffic on the Bourne Bridge over Labor Day weekend.

Now that summer is over, the results are in: Although some businesses remain under strain, the tourist season was busier than expected, according to the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force.

Traffic coming over the bridges started at a big deficit in the spring, but largely recovered as the season went on. By Labor Day weekend, bridge traffic was actually 2 percent higher than last year.

Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said hotel stays were off 15 percent, but house rentals were down just 4 percent.

“While we were down, we suffered the least losses of any other region in the state in terms of overnight occupancy transactions,” she said.

That’s good news for local property owners, but perhaps less so for vacationers, because the price of accommodations rose 5 percent.

Northcross said the number of travelers booking longer stays of 30, 60, or even 90 days rose significantly.

Senator Julian Cyr, spokesman for the task force, said the Cape also managed to keep coronavirus transmission mostly under control, even with the influx of summer visitors.

“We were able to welcome people in a way that resulted in less community spread than I had feared,” he said. “So overall, there’s a sense among the task force that we did better than expected.”

And yet the number of new cases of COVID-19 on Cape Cod has risen since a lull in early August. At that time, new cases numbered between zero and four for about two weeks. Over the last week, most days have seen between seven and nine new cases.

Still, that number is lower than in mid July, and substantially lower than in the early part of the pandemic, when Barnstable County sometimes recorded new cases in the 30s or higher.

Vaira Harik, deputy director of the Barnstable County Department of Human Services, said the recent increase started in late August, so the Labor Day holiday does not seem to be a factor.

“We have not seen a characteristic bump in new cases that would lead us to think anything untoward happened over the Labor Day weekend,” she said.

Over the summer, the number of people hospitalized on Cape Cod with COVID-19 was running at a three-day average of zero for several weeks, she said. 

As of Thursday, Cape Cod Hospital had five COVID-19 patients, and Falmouth Hospital had three, according to state data. Those numbers include two patients in intensive care — one at each hospital.

Since the pandemic started, 174 deaths have been reported on Cape Cod and one on Nantucket. No coronavirus deaths have been reported on Martha’s Vineyard.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.