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Mystic Airbnb hosts pitch 'Corona Free!' apartments

I've been surprised and saddened by the cold shoulder many communities have given their returning summer residents seeking coronavirus refuge in their own often-isolated homes.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has ordered all out-of-state cars stopped at the borders, with visitors ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days. State police are going to door to door.

On Block Island, the police chief this week had to warn residents to stop confronting returning seasonal homeowners. He added they might want to offer help instead to their quarantined neighbors.

There's a petition on Cape Cod with thousands of names demanding that bridges be closed, shutting the place down to all who don't live there all year. The hospitals on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have asked seasonal residents to stay home because of limited island infrastructure.

So, I can understand the chagrin of someone who wrote to The Day this week to complain about Mystic Airbnb hosts in his neighborhood who seem to be trying to use coronavirus to market their listings.

"Corona Free!" and "Social Distancing in Mystic!" are some of the headlines on some listings by one couple hosting apartments in the heart of downtown Mystic.

Indeed, a perusal of all the Mystic Airbnb listings shows a lot of them booked solidly through April, a time when you wouldn't expect so many visitors, except on weekends.

If I were in New York, laid off or working electronically from home, with kids out of school, the promise of better social distancing in Mystic, a place with less risks of an overtaxed medical system, would look appealing.

Maybe I'm wrong to make a distinction between someone returning home in a time of crisis, to a property they maintain and pay taxes on, and someone staking out a long-term refuge at $65 a night.

I think the reader who complained to The Day about strangers in his neighborhood with New York license plates seemed especially offended that the Airbnb hosts seem to be profiteering from a crisis.

It is at least worthy of some official attention here in Connecticut, given that governors in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida have moved to close down Airbnbs, except for use by first responders.

Presumably, Gov. Raimondo's order addresses the issue in Rhode Island, since the cars with out-of-state plates are stopped at the border and asked to self-quarantine, whether they are heading to their own second home or an Airbnb.

The Block Island Town Council on March 17 ordered the cancellation of reservations for hotels, inns and rentals. They also shut down bike and moped rentals and taxis.

Will we hear from Gov. Ned Lamont on what seems to be the start of a coronavirus tourism season here?

Actually, judging by the Airbnb calendars I looked at, the makeshift inns are already full. Maybe the arriving refugees, if not confronted by police, should at least be pointedly asked to quarantine.

I messaged through Airbnb the Mystic hosts promising good social distancing and sanitary conditions at their apartments.

They said they have switched from offering short-term to longer-term rentals in response to the pandemic. They said they would like to cater to nurses and doctors. Their Mystic listings don't say that, though, and the website indicated I could reserve immediately online for a few days, no questions asked.

I have mixed feelings about the situation. My heart goes out to people fleeing a crisis, whether you are crossing international borders, chased by war, or running from state to state, scared by a health crisis.

In this case, many are running from home. Turning them away seems heartless.

On the other hand, profiteering during a crisis seems unseemly. There is legitimate concern about overwhelming local medical resources, especially on the resort islands.

At least many of the Airbnb hosts fielding new business are offering weekly and monthly discounts, not price gouging.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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