Public Health Enthusiasts Sue Local Government for Access to Their Beach Houses

Public Health Enthusiasts Sue Local Government for Access to Their Beach Houses
Image:a “classic vacation rental” in the Outer Banks (Flickr)

The affluent’s insistence on fleeing to more spacious but underprepared areas to escape covid-19 has been a well-documented subplot in our long global nightmare. In the Hamptons, overburdened officials have all but begged New York City governor Andrew Cuomo to shut down travel between the city and the swanky vacation hamlet. In Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket hospitals have issued statements asking people to stay away from their second homes.

In what might be one of the most proactive attempts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, a string of North Carolina beach towns known as the Outer Banks limited visitors in late March, closing bridges and instating checkpoints barring even those with second homes.

But in the long tradition of all people accustomed to getting what they want, regardless of government guidelines or broader public interest, a group of out-of-state residents has filed a lawsuit demanding access to their beach houses. In a suit filed on April 7, six part-time residents from Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland allege “discrimination” as well as “irreparable injury due to the deprivation of Constitutional rights” stemming from the county’s refusal to let them visit their vacation properties.

Dare County, with an off-season population of 35,000, has only one hospital and an estimated 20 beds. During the summer, the number of residents can swell to 200,000. In mid-March, an emergency coalition formed by the county began to limit travel to the area, eventually instituting checkpoints on the two bridges connecting the barrier islands to the mainland. Currently, movement between the five beach towns that comprise most of Dare County and its adjacent areas requires proof of permanent residency or proof of employment. But these measures weren’t enough to keep the new coronavirus from moving into the community as travelers tried to escape the virus or quarantine in their second properties: According to the Virginian Pilot, in late March the Outer Banks reported its first two cases, both in patients who gave home addresses from out of town.

As HuffPo has reported, crafty visitors have already devised ways to reach the relative tranquility of the Outer Banks regardless of county regulations: Local police report finding stowaways in the trunks of cars crossing the bridges, and there has been an increase in the number of people applying for North Carolina license plates in the last months.

Perhaps unsatisfied with such potentially unsuccessful tactics, the group of property owners—some of whom rent during the summer season and say they need to prepare their homes for visitors—instead hired a lawyer to argue the county’s mandate violated the “privileges and immunities” clause in the Constitution. As the group’s attorney told one local outlet, his clients “simply want to get to the property they own and pay for.” (In fact, the complaint suggests “nominal damages” be received by the plaintiffs in exchange for the violation of their Constitutional rights.)

“This action is brought by plaintiffs who seek to protect their right to travel, to engage in a common calling or occupation, and to obtain medical treatment as is guaranteed to them as citizens of the United States,” the complaint reads.

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