To the editor:
The front page Salem News article of Thursday, Oct. 8 — of course, with the ever-present, content-necessary, up-close color photo of Mayor Driscoll — is headlined “City, businesses work to reduce COVID risks with tourists.”
The basics of the article amount to the following:
1. That “A ‘perfect storm’ of Salem’s past marketing achievements and the stir-craziness of day-trippers amid the pandemic is causing visitors to come to Salem in droves;”
2. That according to the mayor’s estimates and observations, last weekend’s activity in the downtown were “three-quarters of the crowd” that visited Salem’s downtown the first weekend in October last year, but the necessary occupancy restrictions affecting the businesses on the Essex Street Mall caused “people pooling outside in queues to get in;”
3. The article then goes on to state the obvious, namely the “Colliding lines of tourists can increase clusters of COVID-19 cases that affect tourists and businesses alike,” and perhaps it should have added “Salem residents” as well.
What’s the solution that Mayor Driscoll is proposing? The article goes on to report that “City leaders have latched onto a new buzzword, ‘de-intensifying,’ to explain their greatest challenge of dealing with congested areas such as the Pedestrian Mall ... (which) is nearly impassable on Halloween night, when tens of thousands of revelers congregate at the same time.”
I think it’s fair to say that we all get the problem, including that there are very, very tough choices that have to be made.
What is more difficult to get is whether our “city leaders” are truly recognizing the root cause of the problem, and adopting truly realistic and effective policies that genuinely have some scientific hope of successfully combating the COVID-19 virus, as opposed to policies which, in effect, amount to putting a band-aid on cancer, or even worse, cynical and hypocritical political posturing.
Perhaps this can be expressed in the following syllogism:
a. The more tourists who come to Salem during the four- or five-week Halloween Season, the more risk there is that they and Salem’s residents will contract the life-threatening COVID-19 virus;
b. If last year we had in excess of 100,000 visitors descend on our city of approximately 40,000 in the weeks leading up to Halloween (and another 50,000 or so during the day/evening of Halloween); if last weekend’s experience continues or grows (whether due to favorable weather, to “stir-craziness,” to Halloween falling on Saturday this year, or due to other factors), that means, (if the mayor’s assessment of last weekend is a conservatively accurate forecast of the influx of tourists over the next few weeks, we should reasonably expect in excess of 100,000 tourists this year;
c. Given those numbers, occupancy restrictions don’t stand a chance of solving anything, or put another way, inviting, or at least not discouraging, that likely number of tourists coming to Salem is certain to spread the pandemic to them and to us.
Isn’t the conundrum the same one faced by the politicians and business leaders in the fictional town of Amityville on the Vineyard in the movie Jaws?
Even more to the point, isn’t it the same one faced by the characters in Ibsen’s play “An Enemy of the People.” (If you’re unfamiliar with the play, you can easily look up a synopsis of the plot online.)
And if Mayor Driscoll and our other unnamed “city leaders” choose in favor of minimizing the already catastrophic adverse economic impact of COVID-19 on our businesses and local economy, let her and them at least have the intellectual honesty and integrity to admit it.