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Most of Westerly is outside Gov. Raimondo's border checkpoints

It is interesting that one of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo's new border checkpoints to stop out-of-state cars, including those from Connecticut, is set up in the parking lot of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce.

The Pawcatuck and Westerly communities are so intermingled, despite the state border that separates them, they can even share what used to be called the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce.

When I first heard about Raimondo widening her coronavirus border stops beyond New Yorkers to include cars from all other states, I wondered what would happen to the border in downtown Westerly/Pawcatuck, where surely every other car entering Rhode Island is from Pawcatuck, with Connecticut plates.

It turns out the border checkpoints set up on Interstate 95 and Route 1 this week generally leave most of Westerly carved out of the governor's new dragnet to stop people arriving from out of state to tell them to self-quarantine.

The Route 1 checkpoint, set up at the chamber parking lot and staffed by the Rhode Island National Guard, is close to Westerly's border with the town of Charlestown, the opposite side of town where the Connecticut border is located, so that out-of-state cars heading to Westerly's beach communities in Watch Hill and Misquamicut would never encounter it.

Indeed, one of the National Guardsmen questioning car drivers Thursday told me the only out-of-state people using Rhode Island summer houses that he has spoken to have reported they've already finished two weeks of quarantine and were on errands in Westerly.

He said most of the Connecticut cars he stopped are on their way to the Westerly Walmart.

It takes about as long as a typical stoplight to go through the checkpoint.

The Interstate 95 checkpoint is at a rest area on the northbound side of the highway, just before Exit 3. That means any out-of-state car heading to beach or summer houses off exits 1 and 2 would not be stopped.

Both checkpoints also are staffed with Rhode Island State Police, and any out-of-state drivers who ignore prominent signs to pull in are chased by police and questioned. I was surprised how many chases, with cruiser lights going, occurred the short time I was there.

There are camouflaged Humvees parked in front of the checkpoints, uniformed officers mingling around the temporary tents and lots of hovering police in marked and unmarked cars.

If it's meant to be intimidating, it is.

It's also, apparently, a bit disconcerting for those with a lot of corona-phobia. I saw the driver of a Connecticut-plated Mini lower the car's back window, when the National Guardsman, wearing a mask, approached the front passenger window.

The soldier seemed startled at having to ask his questions through a rear window.

The driver reported he was driving to Maine, and with a wave from the soldier, was fast on his way.

I give Gov. Raimondo credit for trying to put an exclamation point on her orders that people need to self-quarantine if they are coming from out of state to ride out the pandemic in her state.

The decision to single out New Yorkers was a bad one.

At this time the checkpoints are probably more unsettling than effective. As the soldier I spoke to has discovered, people fleeing to Rhode Island arrived a while ago.

And if they are heading to Westerly, they won't be stopped at the Connecticut border anyway.

It's heartening, I suppose, to know that the governor, even if she wants to, can't harden the state border in Westerly-Pawcatuck, where the community is in this together.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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