Martha’s Vineyard is seeing a rush of traffic, as people are heading to the rural Island earlier than usual to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.
Jeff Kristal, a selectman and owner of Crocker Inn in Vineyard Haven, said the Island is seeing a trend similar to what happened after 9/11. “In October, we seemed to be a safe haven for people from the New York area,” Kristal said. “People felt safer here. We had one of our best Octobers we ever had in 2001.”
Crocker Inn isn’t open for the season, but what Kristal and others are seeing is that second homeowners are opening their seasonal homes early. “I’m hearing that from a lot from other people,” Kristal said.
Steamship Authority spokesman Sean Driscoll said the SSA hasn’t had a rush of new reservations, though he couldn’t necessarily attribute it to the COVID-19 news getting more intense. “Preliminary numbers show we’re up in several categories, including vehicle reservations and passengers, on the Vineyard route [year to date], but I haven’t seen final figures yet for February or the first part of March,” Driscoll said.
In a phone conversation with The Times, Ruth Faden, founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, spoke about the ethics behind people deciding to come to the Vineyard to leave areas where there’s been an outbreak or a growing number of confirmed cases.
Faden is a specialist in ethical issues in medicine, biomedical science, and public health. “In some respects I think it’s better if everybody stays put,” she said. Faden, a part-time Island resident, has been wondering herself whether to return to the Island. “The less movement the better, and that’s because it’s just unclear what is happening.”
As for non-full-time residents coming to the Island from areas with outbreaks or growing numbers of cases, Faden said, it depends on what they know about their chances or likelihood of bringing COVID-19 to the Island. “How are you supposed to proceed in the absence of testing?” Faden said. “Did these people do something ethically wrong? It’s something that is maybe not ethically ideal, but it’s hard to fault people. This is their home too, and they love it.”
As to whether people have a moral obligation to try not to facilitate the transmission, Faden was blunt: “The answer is yes. We should be really careful.”
With people coming to the Island, including seasonal residents, college students returning early, and others, the Island’s grocery stores are experiencing an uptick in business, and are selling out of certain foods, along with cleaning supplies such as hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and other disinfectants.
An August blend of out-of-state license plates can be seen on the Steamship and Vineyard roads. At Island grocery stores, aisles are packed with people filling up shopping carts. “I’ve been doing this for 56 years, and I’ve never experienced this before,” Cronig’s owner Steve Bernier told The Times by phone Friday. “Business is a little crazy.”
While Bernier didn’t have exact numbers, he said the stores were busy and that he has lots of replenishment orders in place. Bernier wants people to know he still has paper towels and toilet paper, but has sold out of hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and liquid aloe. “Things are in a precarious state,” Bernier said. “But people are wonderful … I just wish I had more people to help. Everyone is watching for flu symptoms.”
In order to keep up with demand, Bernier is closing up-Island Cronig’s to better staff the down-Island store.
Shelves at Stop & Shop are becoming barren as people stockpile meat, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and nonperishable foods. Maria Fruci, Stop & Shop’s manager of communications, told The Times in an email that sales of certain cleaning supplies have increased. “Stop & Shop is seeing increased sales on items like hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, Lysol sprays, bleach, antibacterial soap, and other cleaning products. We’re working diligently along with our suppliers to keep these high-demand products in stock. In addition, customers are stocking up on nonperishable items like rice, canned soups, canned vegetables, and pasta sauce. These sales trends are similar across all states in which Stop & Shop operates,” Fruci wrote.
At Leslie’s Pharmacy in Vineyard Haven, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and other cleaning supplies are being “wiped out,” according to owner Warren Holmberg. “We’re doing the best that we can,” Holmberg said. “Our wholesaler is completely wiped out of those products. We’re checking their site all day long.” People have also been picking up extra prescriptions. “We do have a few people picking up extra medications,” he said.
Due to the frenzy over certain supplies, Eddie Pacheco, who runs Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs, posted in the Islanders Talk Facebook group that his store had plenty of toilet paper and sanitizing wipes. “All team members are working diligently, replenishing the shelves and constantly sanitizing surfaces, push carts, baskets, and checkout counters. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this unprecedented time,” Pacheco wrote.
The Harbor View Hotel and its Bettini Restaurant have decided not to accept guests starting Sunday, March 15, through Thursday, April 2. “We’re taking this precaution in consideration to our guests, associates, and the greater Martha’s Vineyard community,” a release from the hotel states. “While the hotel will be closed to our guests, we will remain open to our associates in order to continue to keep the team employed and continue our efforts to prepare the hotel for the season ahead. Our current plan will be to reopen to guests beginning Friday, April 3.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Bank is asking customers to use online banking. Bank president James Anthony told The Times the bank has a COVID-19 action plan in place as the situation continues to evolve.
“The best thing individuals can do from a banking perspective is to get on mobile online banking. Get the app on their phone,” Anthony said.