Fire Island's 17 resort communities are only accessible by ferry. U.S. EPA photo by Jeanethe Falvey

Officials on Fire Island are urging seasonal homeowners not to come to their beach homes to get away from more densely populated areas amid widespread calls for the public to practice social distancing.

The mayors of the villages of Ocean Beach and Saltaire, two of the most populous areas among the 17 summer resort communities on the 32-mile-long barrier island, have issued warnings that there aren’t enough first responders or medics available in the off-season to handle an influx of COVID-19 refugees.

“We are in winter mode and emergency service is very, very, limited,” Jim Mallott, mayor of the Village of Ocean Beach, the unofficial capital of the island, said in a letter posted on the village’s website. “So please think long and hard about your decision to come here to Fire Island or even if your here now, your decision to stay.”

The impact of New York City residents similarly fleeing to their second homes in the Hamptons has reportedly exacerbated the coronavirus crisis on the South Fork.

On FI, there are more than 4,000 beach homes largely accessible only by ferry, but the population fluctuates from about 300 year-round residents in the winter to more than 20,000 in the peak months.

The fear is that the seasonal residents trying to take advantage of the isolation on the island this time of year will put themselves and others at risk during a time when resources are scarce. For example, water in some of the more remote communities isn’t expected to be turned on until April 15, there is only one market and two restaurants, CJ’s Restaurant and Bar and Castaway Bar & Grill, open on the entire island. Mallott said his village has about 100 families seeking shelter in Ocean Beach but only a dozen emergency responders, about half of whom are EMTs.

In the barrier island’s only other incorporated village, Saltaire Mayor John A. Zaccaro Jr. issued a similar warning as Mallott.

“Some residents have understandably begun to make plans to relocate to Saltaire earlier than normal,” Zaccaro wrote in a letter to residents. “There is nothing at this point that would prohibit that early relocation, but you should give careful consideration as to what services will be available this time of year and when you should make that move. As you know, Saltaire is located on a barrier island with very limited ferry service this time of year.

“Additionally there is very limited access to basic services and health care: the Saltaire market is not open, our roadway system is under construction, water pipes are still very much subject to freezing, the Saltaire Clinic is not open, and our paid paramedics will not be in residence until later in the spring,” he continued. “That leaves the only source of medical intervention from our small winter-season ambulance crew for response and transport to the mainland. Our fire department is excellent, however it can be overwhelmed given the scope of this outbreak and with Suffolk County rationing emergency transports off the Island by helicopter and boat, the only way off in the event of an emergency is by ambulance for all island residents potentially creating much longer-than normal transport-times to the mainland hospitals.”

Fire Island Ferries, the passenger ferry company that serves the more populous west end of the barrier beach, also warned homeowners to think twice before boarding the boat.

“If you do not need to go to Fire Island, please avoid the unnecessary travel,” the company said. “If you are looking to relocate to Fire Island, be sure to have your provisions in order.”

On the island’s east end, the Davis Park Ferry company suspended service Friday, but the Sayville Ferry Service was still operational.

The strongest warnings to stay away from FI were directed at those who may be sick.

“If you are displaying any symptoms of the virus, or in any other way are under-the-weather, Fire Island is not the right place for you, particularly this time of year,” Zaccaro said.

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