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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Summer bummers

Danger, Danger, Danger

By Will Collette

Not everyone shares my general tendency to see the dark side of things. But even in Charlestown, a paradise to some, a really nice place to others, we have our fair share of pessimists. 

I love living here, but in the summer, not so much. Our beaches bring throngs of summer people and with them, road side trash, lots of traffic – and ozone pollution alerts on hot days. Plus loud motorcycles, strange driving habits and more car crashes.

This summer, we seem to have a larger than usual number of other things to vex us. Let’s start with COVID. Because of the Omicron BA.5 variant, we have a community infection rate of around 160 a day which is ten times higher than the same time last year.

The state is calling our infection rate LOW, despite the high infection rate. And our true infection rate is actually far higher since our inept Governor Dan McKee has dismantled the state testing system, plus most people now use home test kits whose results are not included in the official count.

That leaves us having to be smarter and more intuitive. For example, ask yourself whether you are running across more people testing positive than you have at any other time in the pandemic. I sure have, and I’ll bet you have, too.

Yet few people wear masks or take any precautions at all even though the BA.5 variant is highly contagious, can penetrate your immunity from vaccination and past infections and like its COVID siblings, can kill you. Large events, such as our upcoming festivals can easily become super spreaders since even outdoors, BA.5 can infect you. And re-infect you, as we saw in President Biden and Dr. Fauci.

The smart thing to do is mask up and stay away from crowds all packed together.

Then there’s the spread of monkeypox, an old disease that used to be confined to equatorial regions but is now spreading world-wide. NPR reports The World Health Organization has declared monkeypox a public health emergency of global concern.”

As of Friday, the Rhode Island count was 19. Monkeypox spreads by close skin-to-skin contact; it isn’t airborne. There is a vaccine, but unlike COVID, the problem isn’t anti-vaxxers but not enough doses to meet demand.

“The water’s NOT fine”

Charlestown’s big draw is water, especially our beaches, but also numerous lakes and streams. Great for fishing and shell-fishing. But during the summer, you need to watch out and check before you dive in.

There is a chronic shortage of lifeguards at state and municipal swimming areas. DEM has cautioned swimmers that there is almost no lifeguard coverage at Charlestown Breachway. Coverage may be spotty elsewhere.

Charlestown now has two drones it uses if there are any sightings of possible sharks. They send up the drones when there is a fin-sighting and can zoom in for a close view to confirm whether it’s a shark or a harmless dolphin or sunfish.

It would be great if every parent gave their kids a little talk about not using the ocean and ponds as toilets. Then someone should tell the adults. We’ve already had brief beach closures up due to unhealthy e-coli levels at Watchaug Pond and Ninigret. 

You can check the Health Department’s list HERE to see what beaches have had problems so far this year. Click HERE for observations by volunteer groups, such as the URI Watershed Watch. They have some sites on their list that are not on the Health Department’s list.

Clinging jellyfish - pretty but potentially deadly
So far, there haven’t been many toxic algae blooms in South County, but they do tend to happen as summer wears on. CLICK HERE for more info and HERE for a database that lets you zero in on locations.

Moving on, if you plan to swim or quahog in Ninigret Pond or other coastal ponds, there are reports of two types of jellyfish that can sting you and put you in the hospital. The clinging jellyfish is especially hazardous.

If you do some ocean fishing, be sure your catch doesn’t include smooth puffer fish whose flesh contains a deadly neurotoxin. Wear gloves if you handle them as you throw them back.

Even with gloves, don’t touch any dead sea birds you find. DEM and the Health Department report an increased number of findings of dead birds killed by Bird flu. While bird flu doesn’t usually jump species to infect humans, it can. So unless you are a marine biologist following proper protocols, leave them where they are and report it  to DEM.

I hate mosquitos

Having gone through all the various ways Mother Nature is trying to kill you at the beach, let’s switch to another popular favorite: bugs.

I’ve actually got some relatively upbeat news. Our drought conditions are curtailing mosquitos because there is a lot less standing water. Of course, if you are in a marsh or other wetland, they’ll be glad to bite you. So far, DEM’s weekly mosquito monitoring reports show no findings of mosquitos infected with West Nile Disease or Equine Encephalitis.

That’s great news though there is still enough summer left to give mosquitos the chance to regain their limitless ability to annoy us.

And just as I was about to post this article, DEM announced the first case of mosquito-borne Jamestown Canyon Virus hit a South County man in his 50’s. He is now recovering.

Honestly, I don’t remember ever hearing about Jamestown Canyon Virus, but the Health Department says it can cause fever, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue. Rarely, more serious central nervous system disease, including meningitis or encephalitis… For more information on Jamestown Canyon Virus, please visit”

In the same announcement, the state also reports that there have still been no skeets caught in DEM traps with West Nile or EEE.

And adding irony, as I write this, a mosquito is buzzing around trying to bite my face. So far he has eluded my attempts to squash the shit out of him/her but I swear I will get this little f****er.

Ticks - I hate ALL of them

Let’s move on to ticks, another beloved genre of pests.

The Block Island Times reports that starting August 5, they will host a Lyme disease vaccine trial on the island. They report “a ‘pop-up clinical trial’ that Care Access is conducting on behalf of Pfizer, the creator of a potential new four-dose vaccine for Lyme disease.”

This is a “phase 3” trial that will determine how well the vaccine works. It has passed the Phase 1 and 2 trials to determine that it is safe. If it passes the Phase 3 trial, it then goes to the FDA for final approval. To learn more, go to the website www.

As for tick spread, I can tell you from personal experience that earlier in the summer, they were everywhere in my backyard. I picked up seven in one outing to cut daffodils. But since then, not so much.

URI scientist and national tick expert Thomas Mather told the Providence JournalIt’s hard for me to say whether they’re up or down. We’ve had a few surprising cases where they have been far more abundant near the coast. In northern Rhode Island, we’re probably seeing fewer.” They LOVE humidity.

So in conclusion, it is true that there are lots of nasty things out there that can kill you. Or at minimum, gross you out. But forewarned is forearmed. 

For every hazard I’ve catalogued, there are counter-measures. They range from “don’t touch” and “stay away” to getting yourselves properly dosed.

Except unfortunately, there is no vaccine against summer people though I have heard the legend of one local farmer in the 1980s who created an anti-summer people “super-spreader" event by laying down lots of fresh manure just before Memorial Day.

Welcome to Charlestown.