Responses to Raimondo’s ferry remarks show deep division

Between residents and visitors, between mask wearers and those who don’t
Mon, 06/15/2020 - 1:30pm
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Gov. Gina Raimondo set the stage at her first press briefing this week by saying she was “really looking forward to phase three” when restrictions and protocols regarding public gatherings and business openings would be relaxed “even more,” which she hopes will be in early July.

Raimondo said the state was only in its second week of phase two and “so now we need another couple of weeks to observe the data of the changes we made in phase two.”

Raimondo added: “The virus is alive and well. It’s out there. The virus has not gone anywhere. What’s changed is us,” and stressed “we don’t want to be another state where see a spike and we don’t have to be that if people follow the rules to the best of our ability.”

While saying she is “confident we are in a good place,” Raimondo added that she is still stressing “voluntary compliance” on the basics; “wearing your mask, wash your hands, keep six feet apart.”

Then Raimondo came to what was on her mind: passengers on the Block Island Ferry.

Raimondo said her office had received “a lot of complaints over the weekend: too crowded and very few people wearing masks. I want to address that for a second. We got a lot of phone calls and emails. Everybody should know they [Interstate Navigation] were doing their best to enforce the rules and they put an additional ferry on to get folks back from the island. To the patrons, I would ask you to do a better job. It’s an hour ride. It’s not five minutes. If you are seated next to someone for 20, 30, 40 minutes, please keep your mask on. I know it’s awkward, but it is something you need to do. We have to do better — do a little better. We don’t want an outbreak on Block Island. They have very limited health care. We are working hard to keep Block Island open. The rest of us have to play a part… and wear our masks.”

“We appreciate the governor recognizing all the efforts we are making,” said Interstate Navigation’s Director of Security Bill McCombe. “We’ve been working with the Department of Health and the governor’s task force for several months and we’ll continue to work together to keep social distancing and ensure the passengers wear masks.”

McCombe said Interstate Navigation was adding additional runs this weekend to give riders more travel options, and is adding fast ferry runs, also. The fast ferry will start running seven days a week on the weekend of June 26. (See ferry schedules on page 10.)

“We’re hoping this will alleviate congestion,” said McCombe. He also said the ferry company was now allowing passengers to bring backpacks or small carryons to their seats and to place those items between themselves and the next party to create a distance between people. McCombe said a message encouraging passengers to wear masks is played three times during the 55-minute trip.

“These are guidelines, not the law,” said McCombe. “But we need to heed the governor’s advice and work together.”

Moments after Raimondo made her remarks, The Block Island Times posted them on its Facebook page, and the comment section quickly showed the deep divide between how people view the effectiveness of the masks, and even whether the governor had the authority to suggest people wear them.

Said one poster: “If you love Block Island, wear a mask. There are zero cases of Covid amongst the residents of Block Island, unlike the other communities in R.I. If you ever want to go there again, wear a mask. If they start getting a lot of cases there, they might restrict the ferry ride to residents only. If you don’t want to wear a mask, take your ignorance and go home… You know the saying, ‘When in Rome…” You are guests, don’t think you can do whatever you want to do. That’s rude as hell.”

Another posted a GIF of running sheep with the word “sheeple” over it and the statement: “Don’t know why we follow, we just do.”

Councilor Martha Ball stated: “The governor probably should have reminded listeners if their indifference causes Block Island to shut down, it’s not just us on the island who will be impacted. They will be hurting their neighbors still looking forward to a summer trip to Block Island.”

One resident addressed island visitors directly: “Please try to understand the ferry is a lifeline for our community. Not just to provide us with the opportunity to go shopping. We depend on a safe trip to bring our newborn babies to their pediatricians for their seven day checkup, to make weekly trips to a physical therapist to heal from injuries, we currently have multiple island residents undergoing weekly chemotherapy treatments, whose immune systems are completely tattered. We also have many island residents who have been putting off essential health care trips because they don’t feel safe traveling. For the vulnerable in our community, please wear a mask the whole time you are on the ferry.”

Many posters indicated the crews on the boats were doing their best. “On the ferry yesterday the crew walked around reminding folks to put their masks on,” wrote one.

Another shouted: “FREE WILL THE MASKS DO NOTHING!!!!”

And one pointedly said this: “If they don’t like the masks they will hate the ventilator.”