The worst of times bring out our best

These are strange and somewhat haunting times we’re in. Schools closed. Gyms locked tight. Movie theater screens gone blank. You can’t check out a book at the library (though they have some great online resources). You can’t go to your favorite restaurants (though some are offering curbside pickup to take away some of the sting of lost business — and to provide us with some variety in our cuisine). You’re supposed to avoid gatherings with friends, the very people who help us through dark times.

March can be bleak on Martha’s Vineyard. The past couple of years it’s been dark and stormy. Somehow, with COVID-19 knocking at our doors, we find ourselves longing for the punishing winds of a nor’easter over social distancing and what feels like an inevitable march toward lockdown.

Some on the Island have stepped up and shown leadership — Denise Schepici, CEO and president of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, is an example, as is Maura Valley, health agent for the town of Tisbury. We’ve been troubled by others who don’t seem up for the assignment they’ve been given to lead during emergency situations.

We’re also concerned that it’s taken the Steamship Authority time to get onboard, saying they’re following the guidance of health officials instead of implementing precautions weeks ago when it was clear that COVID-19 was headed this way. For weeks, there had not been a single sign asking passengers to wash their hands or separate from other passengers if they felt symptoms.

And history will not look kindly on President Donald Trump, who initially downplayed the significance of the pandemic, even pulling out the word “hoax” and saying it would be driven away by “beautiful April.” That’s because when he could have approved massive testing, he didn’t. He’s been quoted as saying he didn’t want the numbers revealed by widespread testing because it would hurt his chances at re-election. In the past few days, though, he seems to have gotten the message this is a serious, possibly disastrous pandemic. His confusing messaging over the past three weeks has done little to calm citizens or Wall Street. A worry for another day for most of us, but for seniors living on those years of investments, the collapse is devastatingly real.

COVID-19 reached our shores five weeks after it arrived in Italy — a country that has struggled mightily to contain it — and yet we still see people holding parties, flocking to beaches in Florida like it’s spring break, and being cavalier about the pandemic on social media.

We need to take this seriously. Listen to the experts. Nationally, Dr. Anthony Fauci has shown true leadership, breaking through the noise and, perhaps, behind the scenes getting through to the president. He said this on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about young people, who are among the most cavalier about COVID-19: “I think they should be practicing social distancing because even if — and I think it’s still true that younger people are at much, much less risk of getting into trouble — that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to get infected, and then they are going to infect the older people. So everybody should be taking really good care to avoid infection.”

And locally, Michael Loberg, owner of Vineyard Medical Care and a member of the Tisbury board of health, provided sobering context while some people were making the case to continue holding public meetings. “Let me say that we don’t want to make a mistake here if we can avoid it. The concept of social distance is partly to protect the patient. But what it’s really intended to do is to flatten what they call the curve. There’s a curve that is the number of infected over any period of time; if that curve goes up — we do nothing and that curve shoots up — all of a sudden that exponential growth hits the Island, hits our healthcare providers, and we will immediately lose the ability to defend ourselves medically. We just don’t have enough resources. If you can flatten that curve, a couple of things happen — your healthcare providers can better stay on top of it … but even more than that, because the facilities are working the way we want them to, the overall death rate will stay much lower. It will stay in that 1 percent range you hear about. We could get into the 3 percent range, the less-sophisticated-country range, if we really overwhelm our healthcare givers and our facilities.”

In that vein, just as we did with climate change and sea level rise, we are not going to accept comments or Letters to the Editor that deny the science behind COVID-19.

We couldn’t help but be taken by the signs of hope from Italy last week, one of the countries hardest hit by this pandemic. As of Wednesday morning, there were 27,980 confirmed cases, and 2,503 deaths in Italy.

But even in that devastated country, there have been signs of hope. People out on their balconies to sing the national anthem, or participating in a “flash crowd” session of clapping and cheering for their country’s medical workers; others baking cakes with their children every day; military jets trailing with the colors of the Italian flag.

As we always do in times of crisis, we’ve seen signs on the Island of people offering support. 

Folks at Grace Episcopal Church reach out daily by phone to the Island’s most vulnerable population to make sure they’re OK, and to see if they need any assistance with errands. The First Congregational Church of West Tisbury is doing similar outreach. 

And there have been posts on social media by individuals like Marc Foley, who says he’s ready to help out Island seniors any way he can.

Some businesses that have made the decision to close down, like Rosewater and Harbor View Hotel, noted that they will continue to pay their employees. Others, like restaurant owner J.B. Blau, is trying to match his 75-plus affected workers with employers who might need help during this time.

Our own employees have worked relentlessly to bring you the most updated information, as far back as our first post about coronavirus on Feb. 12. Everyone from our frontline reporters to those who sell advertisements and design the newspaper has pitched in to keep you updated as the flow of information has come in like a gushing river.

We don’t know where we are headed. These are uncharted waters, and the seas are rough and seemingly relentless. But if we listen to the experts and avoid the noise, we’ll get through this together and come out stronger and more resilient.

Stay home. Stay well.