On March 19, the Truro Select Board signed a formal proclamation declaring a state of emergency. The 10 “whereas” clauses of this proclamation noted, among other things, that the governor had declared a state of emergency nine days earlier.
The proclamation called for “immediate public action” to minimize the spread of disease in Truro, but it didn’t say anything about what such action might be.
The board remained silent on that question for another eight days, when, together with the board of health, it posted a message on the town website, titled: “CORONAVIRUS: A Pandemic Dilemma That Demands A Particular Introspective Thoughtfulness From All Of Us.”
The particular introspective thoughtfulness that Truro’s leadership offered was not actually addressed to anyone here in town, who might have been wondering, in this time of crisis, what was happening to town government and how to get accurate information about the virus, the police and fire departments, the rescue squad, the senior center, the school, the transfer station, local health agencies, and local providers of food and medicine. No, it was addressed entirely to people who weren’t here, telling them in no uncertain terms not to try to come.
The boards wrote of “an influx of people fleeing urban centers,” seeking a safe harbor. “While in normal times our town would be welcoming visitors,” they wrote, “these are not normal times. Because of both the real and perceived threat of such a population surge, we write to discourage this crisis-generated influx of people.”
The message continued: “If people come from off-Cape, away from their primary care physicians, and become ill, they will be dependent on emergency room aid. They will also be burdening our on-call rescue personnel. We are operating our firehouse and rescue squad with off-season staffing. Barnstable County does not have the medical resources of an urban center and the influx of population will put an undue burden on medical services which exist to serve our year-round population.”
This, in fact, is probably not true. A recent study by the Harvard Global Health Institute appears to show that Cape Cod Hospital may be better equipped to deal with the expected flood of COVID-19 patients than hospitals in Boston and New York.
But that’s not the point.
We live in small towns and our leaders, who are also friends, are mostly volunteers. It’s easy to criticize their errors in carrying out a difficult job.
But the virus is here and will infect many of us. True thoughtfulness would have meant giving everyone, year-rounders, part-timers, and visitors alike, life-saving information on proper self-isolating behaviors and how to stay connected at the same time to town services and a caring community. To ignore that and focus attention instead on fear of outsiders is not public service. It’s malpractice. Truro’s government must do better.