County takes over tick program

Field biologist Dick Johnson drags likely tick habitat. And he's wearing white socks. — MVT File photo

Dukes County has taken over the Martha’s Vineyard Tick-Borne Illness Reduction Initiative from the Island boards of health at the request of those boards. The Dukes County Commissioners approved the absorption of the program at their May 2 meeting, according to county manager Martina Thornton. The Island boards of health voted to transfer the program on May 8, she said.

“It’s absolutely a step in the right direction,” Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said. The program will now become more formalized and established, and will be able to acquire staff, according to Poole.

“I think it will be an opportunity for Dick Johnson to have the interns and expand the program,” Oak Bluffs health agent Meegan Lancaster said. Lancaster said it didn’t appear efficient or feasible to hire interns via a collective body like the Island boards of health.

Johnson, the biologist who had conducted yard surveys on behalf of the boards of health, will now do so with some tick sidekicks, or seasonal yard survey technicians, as Thornton put it. Johnson has begun advertising the positions, she said.

The county is now waiting for a check from the Martha’s Vineyard Permanent Endowment to fund Johnson going forward, and to compensate the interns once they are selected.

Johnson, who had been working out of the Edgartown board of health office, will now have an office in the cellar of the county administration building. Thornton hopes being under the mantle of the county will enable the program to do more to mitigate tick dangers.

“Hopefully it will help out,” Thornton said. “I already heard from two of my friends that they have Lyme this year.”

Lancaster said two cases of tularemia were recently reported on-Island via Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network (MAVEN).