For the wealthy, social distancing is a little different.
Take, for example, the record producer David Geffen. In a remarkably tone-deaf Instagram post, he showed off a drone shot of his yacht in a spectacular setting, with the caption: “Isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everyone is staying safe.” Needless to say, the social-media backlash was swift.
Most of us don’t have the means to just pick up and leave in the face of a pandemic. But higher-income households do have more options when it comes to social distancing. Even if very few own a massive yacht, many more can take refuge in the family vacation home, typically located in a beautiful and less-populated area — and far from the coronavirus hot spots.
In King and Snohomish counties, one in 10 households own a second home or real-estate property, according to data from market-research firm Nielsen. That’s one of the highest percentages of any metro area in the U.S.
Indeed, there are anecdotal reports of an influx of second-home owners in some of Washington’s top vacation spots — places that still have very few confirmed cases of COVID-19.
But among the year-round residents, not everybody is thrilled about the arrival of these coronavirus escapees. Locals are concerned both about urbanites bringing the virus with them, and also the burden they might place on the limited resources of small towns.
“There are people posting on Facebook, ‘Shouldn’t we have the sheriff down (at the ferry terminal) making sure nobody from the mainland is coming on the island?” said Farhad Ghatan, the mayor of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
According to census data, in San Juan County, 37% of all homes are for recreational, occasional or seasonal use — in other words, vacation homes. That’s the highest percentage of any county in Washington.
As of Wednesday, San Juan County had 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases. In King and Snohomish counties, there were 5,586.
But Ghatan says the folks complaining about the second-home owners who have relocated to the island are a small, albeit loud, minority of residents. And he doesn’t think the new arrivals are a threat. He says they’re doing exactly what they should be.
“They’re sequestered in their homes if they come up here — and they have a right to their homes,” he said. “It’s not like they’re out in the streets partying like it’s tourist season.”
“They want to survive,” he added. “That’s why they’re here.”
Ghatan described Friday Harbor as “dead,” with one car parked on a street that normally has 50, and maybe a dozen people in the grocery store.
But it was a very different picture, at least until last week, in the coastal resort town of Long Beach.
“We were just flooded with people,” Mayor Jerry Phillips said of the weekend before last. “We’re in the middle of a virus epidemic, and we have probably 3,000 people in town.” Phillips said it was the same scene in the other beach towns along the Washington and Oregon coasts. Since then, Pacific County has closed down all hospitality lodging and access points to the beach.
Pacific ranks second behind San Juan among Washington counties for the concentration of second homes, at about 35% of the total housing stock. As of Wednesday, Pacific was one of just two counties in the state that did not have any confirmed COVID-19 cases. (One Pacific County resident who is currently out of state has tested positive for COVID-19.)
Phillips says folks have definitely noticed an increase in the number of second-home owners from the larger metro areas who have taken up residence in Long Beach — and that worries some of the year-rounders.
“We have people putting signs up on telephone poles that say, ‘Go home, we don’t want the virus,’ ” he said.
Phillips understands the fear.
“We have a lot of retirees on the Peninsula, so our risk level is very high — and we have a very small hospital,” he said. “That’s why we have the concern.” Census data shows that 39% of the year-round population in Pacific County is age 60 or older.
Phillips adds that the county hasn’t gotten a lot of state support in terms of personal protective equipment or testing kits.
San Juan and Pacific counties are clearly the second-home capitals of Washington, when ranked by percentage of the total housing stock. Mason County, at 21%, comes in a distant third — it has many vacation homes along Hood Canal. King County is at the other end of the spectrum, with vacation homes making up less than 1% of the total housing stock.
Census data also shows that there are 16 places in Washington, all of them very small, where more than half of the housing units are second homes.
The highest percentages are: Hat Island in Snohomish County (89%), Glacier in Whatcom County (88%), and Twin Lakes in Ferry County (80%).
Among the top 16, there is only one place in King County. Nestled in the foothills of the Cascades, this picturesque town’s vacation homes constitute 56% of its total housing stock: Skykomish.