The staff at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital is accustomed to the number of patients tripling or even quadrupling each summer when wealthy Manhattanites flee the city for the Hamptons. But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended everything.
The 125-bed hospital on the southern coast of Long Island has seen a huge upswing in demand for obstetrics and delivery services. The pandemic has families who once planned to deliver babies in New York or other big cities migrating to the Hamptons for the near term.
From the shores of Long Island to the resorts of the Rocky Mountains, traditional vacation destinations have seen a major influx of affluent people relocating to wait out the pandemic. But now as summer vacation season has ended, many families realize that working from home and attending school online can be done anywhere they can tether to the internet, and those with means are increasingly waiting it out in the poshest destinations.
Many of the medical facilities in these getaway spots are used to seeing summer visitors for bug bites or tetanus shots, hiring an army of temporary doctors to get through the summer swells. Now they face the possibility of needing to treat much more serious medical conditions into the fall months - and for the foreseeable future.
Such increase in demand could strain or even overwhelm the more remote towns' hospitals and health care providers, threatening the availability of timely care for both the newcomers and the locals. The Southampton hospital has just seven intensive care unit beds, with the capacity to expand to as many as 30, but it wouldn't take much for the hospital to be swamped by patients.
"For health care, the bottom line is: As our population grows, we have to have the infrastructure to support it," said Tamara Pogue, CEO of Peak Health Alliance, a nonprofit community health insurance-purchasing cooperative in Colorado ski country.
And many communities do not.
Sunny shores and mountain vistas are prompting people to relocate to second homes if they have them, or to purchase new homes in those areas if they don't. Renters who used to come for a month are now staying for two or three, and summer renters are becoming buyers. Multimillion-dollar residences in the ski resort town of Aspen, Colorado, for example, that once sat on the market for nearly a year now move in weeks.
"Some of the most experienced and seasoned real estate brokers have never seen activity like what we have experienced in July and August," said Tim Estin, a broker in Aspen, whose firm draws clients from COVID-19 hot spots such as Dallas, Houston, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Many destinations tried to discourage second-home owners from coming, particularly early in the pandemic after Colorado ski resorts became an epicenter of COVID-19 cases. Gunnison County, Colorado, home to the Crested Butte ski resort, banned out-of-towners, prompting the Texas attorney general to take up the matter on behalf of Texans with homes in the area. In Lake Tahoe, along the California-Nevada border, second-home owners were told to go back to the Bay Area. And in New York vacation destinations, online messages targeted big-city transplants with classic New York aplomb.