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Cape Cod Task Force 'Cautiously Optimistic' About Summer Season As Mass. Reopens

Two people walk along Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)
Two people walk along Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)

As the state begins to reopen and the unofficial start of summer looms, leaders on Cape Cod are hopeful they'll see a good amount of the summer tourism the region relies on.

task force focused on reopening the region says it's continuing to work with state leaders to address the area's unique challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic, as many seasonal businesses wait to reopen.

"I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a summer season," said task force member State Sen. Julian Cyr, who represents most of the Cape, the Vineyard and Nantucket. "It's going to look different than than prior summer seasons and it's going to be delayed."

Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross, who is part of the task force, said the summer travel season will get an extra 14 days this year because Memorial Day falls earlier than usual, on May 25, and Labor Day fall later than usual, on September 7. That should help with tourism, she said.

"We've got an extra cushion to help our summer-strong business cycle kind of get through this global pandemic impact, which we expect to somewhat mute the numbers of people coming to the Cape and Islands for recreation," Northcross said.

Still, the task force continues to be concerned about small businesses in the region, many of which depend on summer visitors. Cape Cod has twice as many businesses that depend on travel and tourism than other parts of the state, according to Northcross.

And while the calendar may line up to make the summer season technically longer, it's unclear when many businesses will actually be able to reopen. Restaurants, hotels, motels and lodging establishments can't reopen until phase two of the state's reopening plan. And bars and entertainment venues can't welcome customers until phase three.

But it's unclear when either of these phases will begin. Phase one is expected to last at least three weeks, so the earliest date for restaurants and lodging establishments to open is June 8. But when the state moves to the different phases depends on several health metrics -- such as infection rates, hospitalizations and testing capacity. So it could be much longer for phase two to start, let alone phases three and four.

"The sooner we have that date certain for restaurants and accommodations to fully accept reservations, it's going to take a great burden off of them," Northcross said. "Otherwise, there are some that may not survive."

"I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a summer season. It's going to look different than than prior summer seasons and it's going to be delayed."

State Sen. Julian Cyr

With so much uncertainty about the season, some Cape Cod businesses are scaling back or may not open at all. And some businesses may not reopen even when they're allowed to do so because they can't meet the new guidelines, which require space between people.

Northcross said communities are looking at ways to allow businesses to operate outdoors, so they can better adhere to social distancing guidelines and make up for indoor capacity restrictions.

People will be able to enjoy the outdoors on the Cape. Outdoor activities like boating and kayaking are allowed to start May 25.

"We're very excited to be part of phase one," said Mike Morrison, who owns RideAway Adventures, a bike, kayak and paddle board company that operates out of Sandwich and Mashpee.

But Morrison said he feels for other businesses on the Cape that can't reopen yet.

"The Cape needs to survive as a place for people to go and enjoy every aspect of it. And the restaurants and bars and stuff like that are a huge piece of it," he said. "So I just hope they're able to fight through this. And I hope the crowds are here. I hope we are able to thrive with this opportunity."

For those thinking of hitting up the beaches on the Cape, the task force is urging visitors to maintain social distance. Beaches, parks and some other outdoor venues are part of phase one and must operate under new guidelines.

Cyr said visitors should keep 6 feet away from others when heading to the beach, and should set up 12 feet away from other beachgoers. Groups of more than 10 are not allowed and beachgoers should have masks on hand, Cyr said.

"How quickly we're able to open the rest of our economy here in the region is going to depend on people's compliance and adherence to those guidelines," Cyr said. "That is going to help continue to keep people safe and it also is going to help us open sooner rather than later."

Cyr said if people don't comply with public health guidance, there may be conversations about what can remain open.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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