GRAND ISLE — Just beyond the last bridge to an outdoor paradise stands a sign, a tent, a row of traffic cones, a squad car with flashing lights.

Delivery and freightliner trucks trundle down this stretch of La. Highway 1 unstopped. A passenger car brakes at the cones, an officer approaches the driver's side window, and, after a brief chat, the car continues onward.

This is the one road into Grand Isle. This is the one road out.

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The spread of the deadly coronavirus hasn't yet reached the residents of the town, local officials said. So far, this Gulf Coast island is untouched by the global pandemic that has infected about 4,000 people in Jefferson Parish and killed over 130.

Still, the town declared a state of emergency on Thursday, and council members, who wanted to maintain Grand Isle's safety, agreed to enforce the first known checkpoint related to COVID-19 in Louisiana.

The barrier was effective last Thursday at noon.

At first, Grand Isle announced that entrance was limited to residents, essential workers and property owners who brought along proof of ownership documents like utility or energy bills. The move blocked the influx of visitors that usually arrive this time of year.

Yet in one day, town attorney Chip Cahill said, Grand Isle's population swelled until it "looked like it was something that we wouldn't be able to control" with its limited police force, fire department and ambulance availability if coronavirus were ever to take hold.

The town tightened its checkpoint restrictions on Friday, limiting entrance only to essential workers and residents who have Grand Isle addresses listed on their driver's licenses. Property owners who already arrived were allowed to stay.

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Cahill did not have numbers available of how much the population grew from Thursday to Friday, and Mayor David Camardelle did not respond to a half-dozen phone calls and messages.

Grand Isle's blockade decision has become controversial. While some residents said they feel safer with the new checkpoint rules, property owners who have built summer homes and fishing camps along the eight-mile stretch of land are challenging the legality and morality of an executive order that appears to them unnecessarily excessive.

"Why do I have less rights than a resident?" said Joe Woll, a Lillie resident who owns a three-bedroom camp and a boat in Grand Isle. "I own property. I own some rights and just because I can't put it on my driver's license and I can't vote, I have no voice in this?"

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It's a common question, one asked by swaths of property owners across the country as similar checkpoints form in other states.

The Florida Keys, according to Monroe County's official website, has also blocked access to everyone except residents and essential employees; but it is also allowing people in who can produce "identification or documents proving homeownership."

Louisiana law, under statute Title 14, Section 329.6, allows local political leaders to make orders in "times of great public crisis" like "controlling pedestrian and vehicular traffic, except essential emergency vehicles and personnel."

Cahill said Grand Isle is "absolutely" able to restrict property owners from entering the town, saying "it's not something that there's ever been any challenges to in court that we've ever had to deal with."

Property owners still question whether the town's restrictive decision falls under the broad language of Louisiana's law on executive orders, whether such a decision would stand against a form of judicial review called "strict scrutiny," which means a decision must be "narrowly" tailored to a "compelling governmental interest."

"I got it, we all have to work together on this," Woll said. "I think this was a knee-jerk reaction."

Grand Isle's population is small: 757 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median age is 53.3 and 25.8% of the population is 65 and older — statistics that show most of the residents on the island are in the high-risk category with a virus that has been deadly among the elderly.

Cahill said the arrival of the virus in Grand Isle could be detrimental to its people.

The town has no hospital and one ambulance. If someone contracts coronavirus, the town's protocol calls for a four-to-six hour trip that includes stops at Our Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Galliano, and, finally, at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero.

Grand Isle resident Leona Billiot, 27, said her family and friends are living in isolation. She sometimes volunteers as the runner who will make the hours-long drive out of town for groceries and medicine they can't get on the island.

She'll drop off the deliveries in the yards of friends and family, eliminating as much contact as possible.

"We really don't have a lot of resources for emergencies," Billiot said. "It's just scary for us."

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