Add Elk Rapids to the list of northern Michigan communities worried about the influx of travelers coming north amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Village President Jim Janisse wrote a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week, asking her to give people a “one-time choice” between staying at their first and second homes and banning future travel between the two. Janisse says there are currently some people coming to the area just for the weekends.
He’s worried if Whitmer doesn’t clamp down on this back and forth travel, the coronavirus will increase even more dramatically in northern Michigan, putting year-round residents at risk and overwhelming the area’s healthcare system.
“I want to look at it as, ‘What makes common sense? What will help us get through this in a fashion that more people will be alive at the end of it?’” Janisse says.
Under Whitmer’s current stay at home executive order, homeowners are allowed to travel back and forth between their properties. In response, many northern counties have instituted 14-day “self-quarantining” guidelines for people coming to an area, but such measures can be hard to enforce.
Janisse says he’s never seen this many people opening up their cottages so early in the year. He says many are socializing as if everything was normal.
“The seasonal homes that I know and recognize for the last 33 years, it’s as if it was a holiday weekend,” he says. “Those homes include multiple vehicles that typically aren’t there, they include vehicles from out of state or sometimes several states.”
Recently, a propane supplier told Janisse there’s currently a waiting list for homeowners wanting service because so many cottages and cabins are opening up right now.
Janisse also says there’s concern about short-term rentals properties being rented out, but he doesn’t know to what degree this is happening.
“I have had complaints that short-term rentals are being utilized,” he says. “We have tried to promote the intent of what Governor Whitmer’s (executive order) is, that short-term rentals are not an essential business.”
A key method to get people to understand the importance of following social distancing and self-quarantining guidelines could simply be public shaming, says Janisse. Basically, people calling out their neighbors who aren’t following the rules.
“I think that’s what's starting to pop up through social media,” he says. “‘Look at this person that’s out and about. What are they doing?’”
Janisse says their area’s 911 dispatch is already fielding calls from people noticing others who aren’t taking the stay at home order seriously.