By Rick Miller
The welcome mat has always been out in Ellicottville — until now.
With the novel coronavirus raging in the New York City area, officials in Cattaraugus County’s tourism hub — Ellicottville — have noticed an uptick in out-of-town families at local Airbnb and other vacation rentals.
On March 25, Ellicottville Mayor John Burrell and the Village Board put out a statement on social media urging families seeking to get out of New York City not to come to Ellicottville due to fears they will bring COVID-19 with them.
The village’s Facebook post had been shared over 560 times and had tens of thousands of views as of noon on Monday. Burrell told the Olean Times Herald that’s just what village officials were looking for. They want to get the message out.
Consider the welcome mat pulled for now, Burrell said.
“We’re very fortunate,” the mayor said. “Cattaraugus County has no confirmed cases. That’s good news.”
The village has fewer than 1,500 residents. Some have reported to Burrell and other village officials that families have recently begun staying in Airbnb and Vrbo rentals.
This is unusual since the ski resorts have closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor said. The assumption is that these are people from the New York City area who were seeking safety at a resort community Upstate.
Officials at Airbnb and Vrbo (Vacation Rental By Owner) have not responded to Ellicottville officials requests to take down the local rentals during the coronavirus crisis.
Why did the Village Board take the step of asking people not to come to Ellicottville?
“Some of it was public input,” the mayor said. “We saw what Lake Placid had done” to dissuade visitors and put out much the same information.
“People have noticed that the house next door had a family living in it and that family might be from New York City,” the hotspot of coronavirus in the U.S.
Burrell said, “We are concerned for full-time residents of Ellicottville and the county. We don’t want all the sudden to have 10 cases in Ellicottville from New York City.”
Dr. Kevin Watkins, Cattaraugus County’s public health director, said March 25 that people traveling from New York City should self-isolate themselves for 14 days.
A member of the Ellicottville EMS Squad for 45 years, Burrell said the Ellicottville/Great Valley Ambulance Service has had very few calls since the ski resorts closed in mid-March. “A majority of our ambulance calls are for trauma.”
The two fire companies’ three ambulances are all being sanitized, as are other ambulances across the county.
“We’re making sure we have proper personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and gowns,” Burrell said.
The mayor thinks that state and county directives in their emergency declarations cover the situation of advertising vacation rentals during the COVID-19 crisis. “We’re looking at all those things,” Burrell said.
Meanwhile, the Wingate Hotel in the village closed on March 25 due to the coronavirus crisis. The Inn at Holiday Valley remains open in the town.
The Village Board’s statement, in part, follows:
“To date we have seen an alarming influx of travelers from outside the county who are staying at second homes and short term rentals, like Airbnb and Vrbo. The use of employees to leave their home, and operate and service non-essential business in this time of crisis appears to be a violation of the Governor’s Executive Orders.
“While the property owners, and the vacation rental business may be seeking to profit by selling refuge from the larger amount of cases downstate, our visitors, and the businesses soliciting their business must be aware that this is a global pandemic, and their coordinated activities may be in violation of State Law, and be an unsound practice.
“We are lucky that we have very few cases in the region. However, a number of exposures will increase with the movement of non-residents into our area from other parts of the state and country, which will result in an inordinate strain upon the resources of public health, first responders, health care providers, our hospitals and other government personnel.
“Ellicottville is an extremely rural area with only about 1,500 residents. We have no hospitals and those that are close are not capable of handling an increased number of patients. Additional needs presented with the increased presence of out-of- town persons will tax our medical care system far beyond its capacity.
“Please note that most small businesses are closed, shops and restaurants are closed and grocery stores, while still open to the public, are experiencing a shortage of food and basic supplies.”