Some head for the hills, others head for the Hamptons.
It was only a few weeks ago when many Americans believed that COVID-19 was largely a concern for China and other east asian countries. After all, a sweeping majority of cases were confined to the Chinese province of Hubei before spreading to the nearby countries of Japan and South Korea.
When the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, the damage had already been done. On March 20, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that the nation’s largest city had become the epicenter of the virus with over 5,000 confirmed cases. By April 6, New York already had 142,384 confirmed cases of COVID-19, around 35 percent of all U.S. cases. The state has also endured more than 6,000 deaths from the Chinese virus, a number that will continue to rise over the next few months.
While New York continues to battle the deadly coronavirus, many of its citizens have retreated to their summer homes in the Hamptons. Thousands have fled New York City, the nation’s worst coronavirus hot-zone.
Although the beach-haven is famous for its mega-mansions, celebrity locale, and countless yacht clubs, the Hamptons essentially shuts-down during the winter and spring months. In the off-season, the far eastern side of Long Island becomes sparsely populated as only manual laborers, retirees, and care-takers tend to stay.
Due to an influx of people from the city and surrounding areas, lower-class laborers and elderly retirees who rely on social-security checks to get by now face food and supply shortages. Many residents fear Southampton Hospital, a 125-bed medical center with 8 ICU rooms and the region’s only hospital, could be overrun in days.
Why are the Hamptons such a popular destination for wealthy New Yorkers? It all comes down to location and prestige.
The Hamptons: From Countryside to Country Clubs
Rhode Island may have Newport, Massachusetts may have Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, but one vacation destination stands alone in the Northeastern United States – the Hamptons.
The Hamptons, located approximately 80 miles east of New York City, technically consists of two towns – East Hampton and Southampton, but each town contains numerous inlets and villages. The popular vacation locale is best described in the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, The Great Gatsby in which sprawling, water-front mansions dominate the greenery in between lush golf courses, rare cars, and mega-yachts beaming with an intense summer sunshine. Many celebrities including Ina Garten, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin, and Jimmy Fallon call the Hamptons home.
As is evidenced in The Great Gatsby, the further east you venture into the Hamptons, the more “old money” the Hamptons becomes. Inlets and villages like Water Mill, Sagaponack, and Amagansett boast median property prices in the multi-millions. Although not on the ocean but rather the Long Island Sound, the North Fork of Long Island has become an up-and-coming locale for vacationers due to its idyllic, farm setting.
When Did The Hamptons Begin to Flourish?
The transformation of the Hamptons from rural farming villages to a playland for the wealthy coincides with the rise of the American millionaire in the late 19th century. Known as the Gilded Age, a term coined by writer Mark Twain to describe the unfettered capitalism and rampant corruption of the time, an elite class of Americans experienced a rapid increase in wealth as new manufacturing industries were established, the modern banking system rose to prominence, and environmental/labor regulations were non-existent.
While there were only a reported 400 millionaires in the U.S. as of 1862, by 1892 there were over 4,000. With money to spend, these rich Americans yearned for a getaway destination in the summer months in order to escape the pollution, disease, and chaos of the big cities. An 1893 article by the New York Times described the Hamptons as “ exclusive—in the best sense of the word”, a noticeable contrast from when the area was best known for its potato harvests.
The new-money crowd of writers, artists, and actors began to snatch up property in the Hamptons during the cultural renaissance of the 1950s and 60s. Writers like Truman Capote and Kirk Vonnegut enjoyed the area for the peace and quiet while the euphoric scenery served as a perfect source of inspiration. The Hamptons is now home to celebrities, Fortune-500 CEOs, tech billionaires, and bankers alike.
What Can You Do In The Hamptons?
Whether you take your car or lease a helicopter, the Hamptons is a short getaway from the hustle and bustle of New York City. Surfers travel in droves to Ditch Plains in Montauk to catch some waves. Many vacationers take advantage of the scenic hiking trails and cycling routes in order to work up an appetite for the numerous eateries dotted along the inlets.
Some restaurants are the perfect spot for customers looking to grab a bite on the cheap while others are reserved for fine-dining. Whether in Montauk or Sag Harbor, Water Mill or Orient, vacationers from all tax brackets have enjoyed the summer days of the Hamptons for over a century.
Staying Safe In The Hamptons
Travel to the Hamptons has subsided over the past few weeks as much of the nation is now under stay-at-home orders. Although the Hamptons is located in a largely rural area, the potential for infection still remains an issue. The CDC recommends people only leave their homes for essential items like food and medicine, keep a minimum of six feet from others, and wash their hands regularly.