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Right now, there are fewer than 1,000 people on Block Island, or New Shoreham as it’s officially known, and no identified cases of COVID-19. But First Warden Ken Lacoste says coronavirus could still hit the island hard, because many year-round residents are elderly, and others have underlying health conditions. 

“We’re very concerned about someone getting sick out here,” Lacoste said. “We’re trying to isolate ourselves as much as physically possible in order to keep the population here safe.”

In hopes of staying safe, the town council passed an ordinance last week that sounds severe even by COVID-19 standards.

People visiting the island for non-essential reasons have to leave. Anyone arriving on the island needs to quarantine for two weeks. Everyone else is ordered to shelter in place. Second-home owners are not prohibited from coming to their property, but the town doesn’t want them to. And no one is allowed to book short-term accomodations at vacation rentals. 

“People are on board with it,” said Lars Trodson, editor of The Block Island Times. “They understand the seriousness of the situation. People are being incredibly compliant and polite about the whole process.” 

Trodson said residents think the new ordinance is highly restrictive, but they’re not complaining. They’re embracing it. The island has limited medical resources to deal with COVID-19.

“We do not have any real medical capability out here at all,” Trodson said. “We have a medical center that has three exam rooms and one little trauma center. That’s it.”

Police chief Vin Carlone said he’s been greeting passengers as they get off the Block Island Ferry, which is running a limited service right now. 

The new rules are explained to passengers on the mainland before they get on the boat. Non-compliance can result in a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail. So far, Carlone said, people understand the reason for the new rules and they’re happy to comply.

“And we tell them if they need any supplies or food or anything, we’d be happy to help them out,” he said. “We have volunteers that will go get it and bring it to them.” 

Carlone said the situation is “much easier than what they’re going through in other areas.”

So far,  the police have only issued one summons to an out-of-state man who was working on a house where he was staying. Police wanted him to go inside and quarantine.

“He was very polite and friendly,” Carlone said. “He just didn’t agree with the ordinance.”

It has been controversial, though, one islander said. And it’s certainly not every day that a tourist island tries to cut itself off from visitors and dissuade second home owners from coming to their properties. But First Warden Ken Lacoste said, so far, no one has been diagnosed with coronavirus and they want to keep it that way.

“So it’s really working,” Lacoste said of the new ordinance. “Our isolation efforts are really paying off. It’s really keeping our exposure to the mainland down.”

The island does look a bit like a ghost now, and already the economy is taking a hit. As the summer tourism season approaches, that hit could get much bigger. 

For now, fingers are crossed that life will return to normal before that.

[If you have a coronavirus story to tell, email Alex Nunes at]