With capacity limits, required closures of some businesses and other Massachusetts COVID-19 rules set to end on Saturday, Cape Cod is now preparing for its first major holiday weekend since 2019 without pandemic restrictions in place.
"While certainly we're not in 2019 right now, this Memorial Day weekend sure feels a lot more like a traditional kickoff to the season," Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro said Thursday.
This weekend will mark the unofficial start of the summer season that usually brings a flood of tourists, part-time residents and activity to Cape Cod.
After a more subdued season last year amid higher COVID-19 case numbers and stricter business and activity limits, Cyr, the public information officer for the Cape's COVID-19 response task force, touted Barnstable County's vaccination rates. Sixty-nine percent of county residents have received at least one dose, according to state health officials, and Cyr said the region is ready for an uptick in visitor demand.
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Unlike last year, masks will not be required at beaches and, starting Saturday, restaurant capacity will not be limited. Cyr said many signature Cape events and attractions like fairs, concerts, parades and the Cape Cod Baseball League "are coming out of hibernation." He advised that visitors still check the COVID-19 protocols in advance for any particular destination, pointing out that masks will still be required on public transit, including ferries, and that businesses may choose to impose their own precautions once state mandates lift.
Cyr said vaccinated travelers may also want to keep their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine card or other proof of their COVID-19 immunization handy, saying that he's aware of a "number of businesses," particularly those offering indoor group activities like dance clubs and busy bars, that plan to require their patrons be vaccinated.
The senator, who used to work in a family-owned restaurant, likened such policies to "no shirt, no shoes, no service" rules and said he understands why some businesses, "particularly those where spread of respiratory illness is quite efficient," would require vaccines.
He said going onto a nightclub's crowded dance floor is different from visiting a shop or restaurant from a "risk and exposure perspective."
The Boatslip hotel is requiring proof of vaccinations for its regular afternoon Tea Dance series, which bills itself as "Provincetown's biggest outdoor dance party." The first one is scheduled for June 3, and a Facebook post from the resort says that displaying either the actual vaccine card or a photo of it will be acceptable.
"Businesses have this prerogative, and so it's up to them. It doesn't surprise me that a place like Provincetown would, culturally, have this," Cyr said. Noting that the Outer Cape is a popular destination for members of the LGBTQ community and referencing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Cyr said, "This isn't the first pandemic that the LGBTQ community is living through."
Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said that businesses requesting to see vaccine cards does not violate the health care information privacy law known as HIPAA.
She said that when she got her shot, the nurse administering the vaccine recommended that she take a picture of the card and save it in a new album on her phone, so that she could find it easily if she needed it to show it anywhere.
Businesses, Northcross said, "are not going to take a picture of it, they're not going to memorize it, they're just going to want to see proof that you have, in fact, made yourself safe."