Town Council brings down hammer, hopes mainland will follow

Councilors: ‘We can’t do it alone.’
Mon, 03/23/2020 - 9:15pm

After two days and three sessions of emergency meetings, the Block Island Town Council unanimously adopted a revised emergency ordinance that urges all residence to shelter in place, limits local commerce and travel to and from the island, but the council, citing legal barriers and despite considerable public outcry, could not restrict or halt travel to the island during the COVID-19 crisis. The emergency order imposes fines and penalties on those who do not adhere to the provisions of the ordinance.

The ordinance goes into effect at 5 p.m., Tuesday, March 24.

The councilors repeatedly expressed frustration that they could not stop traffic during the sometimes tense debate during the past couple of days.

The ordinance will be in effect until April 15, unless extended by the council as this current medical crisis evolves.

After the end of the debate on Monday, March 23, the councilors implored those who are already here and who plan to come to the island during this time of medical crisis, to adhere to the guidelines and specifications of the ordinance it passed this evening. Not doing so, the councilors stated repeatedly, could turn the situation on Block Island “into something horrific,” according to Councilor Martha Ball.

“Don’t break the seal,” said Ball. “Please respect this place. Our resources are limited.”

The members of the council, and Dr. Mark Clark, have repeatedly emphasized the fact that Block Island has limited medical resources and a limited food supply. Anyone diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus can not be treated here, but will be taken off island, Dr. Clark and the town councilors stated.

The newly revised emergency ordinance does mandate that reservations made through airbnb, VRBO and other online rental platforms will be cancelled. According to the ordinance, “All short term lodging owners and operators, including their agents and employees, shall cease taking new reservations pertaining to occupancy dates which fall within the effective period of this emergency ordinance.” 

The most detailed conversation regarding the ordinance centered on provision number nine, which pertains to visitors, the status of non-essential workers, and defining what “shelter-in-place” means for all of those who are currently on the island.

The Block Island Town Council is urging those who are thinking about coming to the island in the immediate or near future to remember that Block Island “is not a safe haven.”

“The council is making a concerted effort to protect the health and safety of Block Island, but we can not do it alone,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste.

Here is the ordinance:



March 23, 2020

WHEREAS, on January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern;

WHEREAS, on January 31, 2020, the Rhode Island Department of Health established an Incident Command System response to COVID-19;

WHEREAS, on January 31, 2020, the United States Health and Human Services Secretary declared a public health emergency for the entire United States to aid the nation's healthcare community in responding to COVID-19;

WHEREAS, Governor Gina M. Raimondo has issued the following Executive Orders:

Executive Order 20-02 declaring a disaster emergency due to the outbreak of COVID-        19 dated March 9, 2020;

Executive Order 20-03 containing a supplemental emergency declaration dated March        13, 2020;

Executive Order 20-04 containing a second supplemental emergency declaration regarding restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and public gatherings dated March 16, 2020;

Executive Order 20-05 containing a third supplemental emergency declaration regarding public meetings and public records requests dated March 16, 2020;

Executive Order 20-06 pertaining to expanding access to telemedicine services dated March 18, 2020;

Executive Order 20-07 pertaining to weapon and firearm background checks dated March 20, 2020;

Executive Order 20-08 pertaining to restaurants, bars and establishments that offer food dated March 20, 2020; and

Such additional executive orders as the governor may issue.

WHEREAS, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a Pandemic;

WHEREAS, on March 11, 2020, the President of the United States addressed the nation about the threat posed by the outbreak of COVID-19 and announced a restriction on international air travel from certain European nations for a period of thirty days starting on March 12, 2020;

WHEREAS, on March 11, 2020, the United States State Department issued an extraordinary global health advisory;

WHEREAS, as of March 15, 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19 had spread to every continent except Antarctica and infected more than 152,000 people, causing approximately 6,000 deaths;

WHEREAS, the number of countries that are experiencing community transmission of COVID-19 continues to grow;

WHEREAS, community transmission in the United States has occurred in many states and is an immediate public health threat to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions;

WHEREAS, cases of COVID-19 have been documented in the State of Rhode Island;

WHEREAS, the State of Rhode Island and various public health officials have reached out to the Town of New Shoreham to take steps to contain the spread of COVID-19;

WHEREAS, the Town of New Shoreham is required to enforce the Governor's Executive Orders to limit the spread of COVID-19;

WHEREAS, the Town has limited medical resources and a limited supply of medical equipment, medical personnel, personal protective devices and medicines to treat potential COVID-19 cases; and

WHEREAS, the terms and conditions of this ordinance are adopted pursuant to: the Governor's Executive Orders; Title 23 Chapter 8 of the Rhode Island General Laws; Title 30 Chapter 15 of the Rhode Island General Laws; and the New Shoreham Home Rule Charter Sections 409B and 804.

NOW, THEREFORE, the Town Council of the Town of New Shoreham does hereby adopt the following emergency ordinance for purposes of protecting the public health, safety and/or general welfare of the Town which are imminently imperiled by COVID-19:

  1. A state of emergency is hereby immediately declared in the Town of New Shoreham due to the risks to the public health and safety posed by COVID-19. The original emergency ordinance was effective as of 12:01 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the amendments to the emergency ordinance are effective as of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, and this entire ordinance, as amended, shall continue in full force and effect until midnight on April 15, 2020. The effective period may be amended as circumstances warrant.
  2. All Town offices and facilities except for public safety offices shall close and all non-essential Town employees shall be put on paid administrative leave until further notice; provided, however, that the administrative leave status of Town employees may be amended by the Town Manager and First Warden. The determination as to which employees are essential shall be at the discretion of the Town Manager and the Town Manager may call back any employee in the event of an urgent matter requiring immediate attention.
  3. All restaurants, bars and other establishments that offer food and/or beverages to the public shall not permit on-premises consumption of food or beverages, and may offer only take-out or delivery service as to food, wine and beer to accompany take-out food orders as specified below, and non-alcoholic beverages in accordance with the social distancing protocols of the Rhode Island Department of Health. A Class B licensee is permitted to sell up to 2 bottles of wine and 144 ounces of beer in original, factory sealed containers, with take-out food orders, provided such sales shall be made in accordance with Section 1.4.10 of the Department Business Regulations, 230-RICR-30-10-1.
  4. All gatherings of people (other than family members) in excess of ten (10) or more on Block Island are prohibited. Gatherings shall include, without limitation, community, civic, public, leisure or faith-based events, sporting events, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals and any other similar activity on the island which brings together more than ten (10) people.
  5. All non-essential Town meetings are cancelled or postponed, including, without limitation, Town Council meetings, Town financial meetings and all meetings of any Town department, agency, quasi-municipal agency, board and commission.
  6. All Town departments, agencies, quasi-municipal agencies, boards and commissions are instructed to fully cooperate with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and with the New Shoreham Emergency Management Agency in all matters regarding this ordinance.
  7. All of the following licenses and permits are suspended during the effective period of this emergency ordinance: entertainment licenses; liquor licenses except for Class A licenses and except for the modifications to the Class B licenses as set forth in paragraph 3 of this emergency ordinance; special event permits; outdoor entertainment licenses; taxi and motor vehicles for hire licenses; and bicycle, motorized bicycle, motorized tricycle and motor scooter licenses. In addition, no vehicles of any kind may be rented on Block Island.
  8. Travel to Block Island is discouraged for any non-resident. Full-time residents are encouraged to restrict travel off island for essential purposes only such as medical care, care of a family member, and obtaining food and other provisions.
  9. Visitors who are not involved in Essential Activities (as that term is hereinafter defined) shall leave the island and follow CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health guidelines.

Anyone arriving on Block Island must immediately Self-Quarantine (as that term is hereinafter defined) for two weeks, and thereafter must Shelter in Place (as that term is hereinafter defined) and follow CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health guidelines.

All residents, full-time or seasonal, must Shelter in Place and follow CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health guidelines.

Only transient workers may commute to Block Island who are engaged in Essential Activities.

All persons on Block Island are encouraged to conduct Essential Activities by themselves, in order that minimal contact/exposure may be achieved.

Only skeleton crews will be permitted to enter construction sites for the remainder of the effective period of this emergency ordinance and such entry shall be limited to what is necessary to ensure safety and security.                 

The term "Self-Quarantine" means remain at your residence except for medical care or emergencies, have food and other necessities delivered, and monitor yourself for symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The term "Shelter in Place" means remaining at your residence except for Essential Activities; however, people may leave their homes for outside activities such as walks and exercise, but social distancing must be maintained and the CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health guidelines must be followed.

The term "Essential Activities" includes activities relating to the following: public safety; public works; medical care; public utilities such as water, sewer and electric; sale and purchase of gasoline, sale and purchase of propane and heating oil; delivery of medicines; transfer station; sale and purchase of liquor as provided in this emergency ordinance; sale and purchase of hardware and lumber; post office; package delivery; sale and purchase of groceries; sale and purchase of take-out food; banking; education as it directly relates to development of curriculum and its distribution; and emergency vehicle repairs.           

  1. Any person who may have come in close contact with a person who has COVID-19 must immediately self-quarantine for fourteen days before coming to Block Island.
  2. Any person who is under self-quarantine direction who wants to go to the Block Island Medical Center must first contact the medical center for instructions as to how to proceed. This directive does not apply to persons requiring emergency medical care or assistance.
  3. All persons on Block Island shall fully comply with all federal, state and local emergency directives and orders as shall be from time to time amended.
  4. All short-term lodging owners and operators, including their agents and employees, shall cease taking new reservations pertaining to occupancy dates which fall within the effective period of this emergency ordinance. For purposes of this emergency ordinance, "short-term lodging" shall include but is not limited to, lodging of thirty (30) days or fewer in hotels, inns, motels, online rental platforms including but not limited to air bnb's and vrbo's, lodges, bed and breakfasts, houses, condominiums, time-shares, cottages and retreats. All short-term lodging reservations, contracts, and/or agreements pertaining to reservations involving occupancy which is occurring or which is to occur during the effective period of this emergency ordinance are cancelled; provided, however, that this cancellation provision shall not apply to housing for persons engaged in Essential Activities.
  5. A violation of any provision of this emergency ordinance is punishable by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500) or imprisonment not exceeding thirty (30) days. Each day any violation of this emergency ordinance shall continue shall constitute a separate offense.
  6. The New Shoreham Police Department is instructed to enforce the provisions of this emergency ordinance.

This is a developing story. Please see Friday’s edition of The Block Island Times for more information.