Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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How Provincetown Can Move Past the 'Cluster'

ptown

When this year began, I never dreamed in a million years that several events would occur. The first: I was able to get my parents the vaccine on January 8 and my partner, Mark, and me it on March 3. The second was the night unmasked and open in Provincetown’s famed A House on May 29, dancing with friends on the first evening of freedom since the pandemic happened. It was absolutely the most joyous I’ve seen people since my kids on Christmas Day.

The next unbelievable event was the over-capacity crowd I witnessed and photographed July 4 at the world-known “Tea” at Boat Slip, when my greatest concern was not standing on any wood deck, opting only for cement, let alone the pressure testing of vaccines. The final kicker was on July 16 and 19; that’s when my partner and I, respectively, tested positive for COVID, and presumably the Delta variant; one of the hundreds caught up in the “Provincetown Cluster.”

Because I’m still without smell or much taste after more than 25 days at the time of this writing, the effects of COVID are with me despite being well past the contagious period and other symptoms that were among the worst of any illness I’ve experienced. It was surreal to be quarantined sick at home in Provincetown watching the hourly news reports from the Provincetown Town Hall that we were among the largest concentration of “breakthrough” (the vaccine) cases ever experienced, with a majority linked to the Delta variant. The health authorities — from local to federal — called or contacted us to do extensive interviews about the two weeks prior to diagnosis. I felt like at least feeling lousy and having unwanted impact on my own business (because it relies on me showing up every day), I was somehow contributing to the greater good of humanity and may help prevent a similar outbreak. Then, the CDC changed guidelines because of the “Provincetown Cluster,” and my rationalization on being sick even after vaccination became affirmation. And, what followed was $20 million+ of negative publicity because Provincetown was (and still is) a health risk. The town was a health risk that became national news, causing people to avoid coming here. Rightfully.

No doubt Provincetown, as a community and destination, has been set back on its heels in the most unintended and frankly, shocking way. I say to Provincetown: think about how you react as a community, what it shows about our individual town leaders — elected, resident, and business — in terms of character and moral compass and what it tells the world about Provincetown.

Provincetown has always embodied love, inclusion, and fun. “Be yourself” is our unofficial tag line and modus operandi. Everyone, equally. If you recognize these same loving values in Provincetown as I do then let’s live these values in how Provincetown moves forward and rebuilds after COVID. Here are my suggestions for what Provincetown should be doing and saying about Provincetown and the cluster:

Recognize the Cluster for its Lessons
Lift up and don’t marginalize the hundreds of us who were unfortunately part of the “Provincetown Cluster,” which included many workers in our vital hospitality businesses who can ill afford to miss one hour of work. While some may scoff at the “undue” media attention or the CDC improving policy based on the cluster, our experience of and response to community spread — meaning it was so widespread no one person, event, or venue can be pinpointed for the spread — saved countless lives, hospitalizations, and many impacts to personal and professional livelihoods here and far. By the level of cooperation Provincetown provided from individuals giving up personal data willingly to town and federal officials who moved quickly to respond with testing and emergency mandates, we set the standard for response. The “Provincetown Cluster” and the town itself should be celebrated and promoted for responding and reacting in the best way possible. Plus, we now have hospitality businesses mandating 100 percent vaccination of employees and patrons. This should be promoted and celebrated for once again leading the nation in love and response.

Realize Cluster Containment Will Take 10-12 Weeks per the CDC
The cluster is not over. The CDC has said specifically of the “Provincetown Cluster” that containment — considered to be under 1 percent positivity for five consecutive days or more — will take 10 to 12 weeks relative to other outbreaks and the extremely contagious viral load of the Delta variant. If we are generous in our timeline and take back the start of the outbreak to July 1, this means containment could take until mid-September to early October, at the earliest. We seem to be on track for this timeframe and again, kudos to those thousands who tested often, the hundreds who stayed home when sick, and the 10 percent equivalent of our year-round population who got vaccinated recently. As such, we should continue having and communicating a mask mandate until at least this timeframe of containment and/or containment is reached. We should continue subsidized and daily testing at least until containment is reached. We should also continue community vaccinations through this time.  Organized and sponsored events, such as Carnival, should be reconsidered especially if cases remain above containment or contained thresholds. To do or state anything less is ignoring of CDC guidance reality and setting unfair expectations for residents, businesses, workers, and visitors.    

Embrace Disaster and Get Economic Relief With It
Provincetown has been through a disaster and continues to be in a disaster per the above CDC guidance. Sadly, for our workers, businesses, residents and visitors, this will continue well into the fall. Provincetown, accept it. Don’t try to spin it, change it, or dilute it. It was a disaster, catastrophe, and tragedy all in one. We can only go up from here. But don’t ignore it. Let’s declare the highest level of state of emergency. Demand economic relief beyond COVID testing and vaccination resources to provide financial resources directly — meaning checks in hands — and immediately to impacted town businesses, workers, and renters. The government help to date has only helped a few sizeable businesses and there's no evidence of direct support to the hundreds of workers. What additional resources can we get for Provincetown because of a state of emergency? What additional stimulus is available? What state resources are available? What infrastructure dollars can we apply once that bill passes? How can we tap our stellar town credit rating to support our businesses, workers, and renters? Tap it all to save our community.

Ignoring the cluster may seem like a strategy to those blinded by only their bottom lines, but make no mistake, we are in a disaster and maybe we should start acting like it to the benefit of many in our town. Accepting the reality and seeking every resource available is a simple yet effective way to address the disaster we are experiencing and help everyone suffering from it.

Resist the Tourism Marketing Dollar Increases Until Summer 2022
We just had an estimated $20 million or more in advertising equivalent of bad press for Provincetown. It was deserved and the CDC affirmed it. It was absolutely the biggest story and about COVID in 2021. Marketing and advertising spend should be suspended until containment. Any dollars tempted to go to town marketing with taxpayer money should be immediately diverted to directly compensate town workers for lost wages before one dollar goes to lure people here.

Any dollars spent to attract people, after tens of millions in bad press and while containment is still some time off, is a complete waste and worse, disingenuous to the reality of our situation. Our workers and businesses need direct aid immediately before we go and spend on more marketing. Please, Provincetown Business Guild, Provincetown Chamber, and Provincetown tourism office, take a leadership role on helping our workers and your member businesses until everyone gets everything they deserve for a war with an unseen enemy and especially after this latest summer 2021 battle.

Provincetown Is Getting Safer, Healthier
Compounding this summer’s cluster outbreak is the fact that our hospitality businesses are also still reeling from the pandemic now well into its second year without the infusion of hundreds of J1 foreign seasonal workers, inability for workers to find affordable housing (a situation that was preventable with different decisions on town property usage much sooner than now) and as a result, a limited number of employees and employers feeling pressure to work much longer every day and having to close just to give exhausted folks a day off.

As a result, we found out during the cluster that a large, untold number of our workers in Provincetown businesses were not vaccinated, and many fell victim to the latest cluster. More than 32 businesses were impacted, yet only a few acknowledged this fact publicly for public safety and cautioning testing to anyone who had visited their locations. More than 230 vaccines have also been issued locally since July 1, telling us that while a majority were vaccinated, a large portion of our annual population and possibly in critical public facing jobs, were not. Now businesses are communicating their 100 percent staff vaccination status and health board certification while asking patrons for proof of vaccines. Both should be communicated far and wide to the thousands of emails held by the very businesses impacted that Provincetown is safer and healthier than at any time for those who protect themselves and others equally. The media focus of the town’s PR efforts should begin and end with this fact.

In closing, Provincetown can help Provincetown by living our values, embracing our reality and taking care of each other.  Look to yourself as well as government to help others. Join together and move our government to provide the maximum help for everyone who deserves it. We can afford it.

Those who love us and trust us and share our values will return. We love you. We embrace you. We are Provincetown. Xo

Michael Kelley is a TV producer, journalist, editorialist, media entrepreneur and blessed to call both Provincetown, Mass., and Pompano Beach, Fla., his hometowns. His love for Provincetown is like his love for his life partner and children — it knows no bounds.

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