PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — As summer approaches, Put-in-Bay has vaccinated more than half of its 300-400 permanent residents against COVID-19 -- the first step, leaders say, in bringing back its typical tourism boom this year.
When you say Put-in-Bay, you're likely thinking about one giant party. But this story begins a year ago in May of 2020, when the pandemic hit the island hard. For a period of time, only residents, property owners, essential businesses and service providers were allowed to travel to the island.
"If anything, we've learned to adapt to the situation day-to-day," Mayor Jessica Dress told WTOL 11.
Dress has spent about half her tenure in office battling a pandemic. Like so many, she's sick of it.
"I think there's kind of, like the rest of the world, fatigue," she said. "People are ready to move forward."
"When you're only able to make your real profit six months out of the year, having those weekends full to capacity, busy, is very important to the survival of not just those businesses, but our taxpayer dollars that fund our police department," Dress said.
Fast forward to now.
The pandemic is still among us but so are vaccines. In fact, Dress said of the 300-400 full-time islanders, more than 250 have been vaccinated. First responders and seniors were prioritized. Now the focus has shifted to seasonal workers.
"We know we have a population coming here and we don't always know if they're going to be vaccinated or not," Dress said. "So we've been very proactive in taking those steps so we can keep ourselves and visitors safe and comfortable as they start to come here this season."
"We're open for fun in 2021. I mean, period," said Wendy Chambers, Director of the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau.
Chambers said she remains cautious but she's confident it's a new day at Put-in-Bay.
"We have so many different offerings between families, boomers, empty-nesters," she said. "There's something for everybody attraction-wise, restaurants, retail, nature preserves, of course the peace memorial."
As a public place, visitors won't be required to get vaccinated. But Dress hopes they will anyway before heading to the Bay.
Dress told WTOL 11 the key to getting so many full-time residents vaccinated was holding several clinics on the island -- a more convenient option so folks could avoid traveling over to the mainland.