Updated 3:30 pm
Gov. Charlie Baker is advising all Massachusetts residents to stay at home, and closing all nonessential businesses in the Bay State, in an effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
“Our goal is to slow the spread by limiting person-to-person contact,” Baker said, noting the profound effect it will have on the business community. “It’s not lost on me or anybody else in our administration that many businesses, locally grown and owned by our neighbors and friends, are the businesses most unlikely to be able to put in place remote or telework policies,” Baker said. “But I also know that by taking this action now, we can significantly improve our position in this fight to stop the spread of this virus.”
Baker said he would not demand that people stay in their homes. “I do not believe I can or should order U.S. citizens to be confined to their homes for days on end,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense from a public health point of view, and it’s not realistic, especially if people need to get to work and essential businesses.”
He asked that people avoid person-to-person contact. “What this means is we can still buy food at the grocery store, get what they need at the pharmacy, and of course take a walk around the block or to the park,” he said. And then, apparently speaking to the commonwealth’s younger residents, he added, “But if you’re at the park, there shouldn’t be any pickup basketball games, touch football games, or activities or events that create the person-to-person contact we are seeking to eliminate. That spreads the virus.”
Baker said supermarkets, pharmacies, and other essential services will remain. “We will not stop anyone from accessing these essential businesses,” he said. A list of the exempted businesses is available at bit.ly/MAessential.
The ban goes into effect Tuesday at 12 noon, and will remain through April 7, he said.
The order comes one day after Nantucket ordered a similar ban, and after Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici joined her Nantucket colleague asking seasonal residents to stay away from the islands for fear they would overtax the two community hospitals.
The Vineyard could not order a similar travel ban and stay-at-home order as Nantucket, because it doesn’t have the same governmental structure. Nantucket is one town, while the Vineyard has six independent towns. Dukes County, which includes Gosnold, doesn’t have the authority to call for an Islandwide ban.
Chilmark and West Tisbury have instituted a construction ban, while Edgartown and Tisbury are expected to consider similar measures. In Oak Bluffs, officials are considering the closure of all nonessential businesses. Those may still be needed, because the governor’s ban does not affect construction. The list of exemptions is actually nine pages long.
“It doesn’t exempt anything. It doesn’t close anything,” selectmen Brian Packish said. “It’s meant for most people to not read [the list of exemptions] and just stay home. I don’t know what it actually does.”
Packish pointed to this passage: “Construction workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction).”
He understands why Island builders are concerned with the possible closure being considered by Oak Bluffs and others.
“I’m in the trades. I’m involved in the trades. I understand the financial hardship. We all go through winter and white-knuckle it, and then we get to spring. Without social distancing and shutting it down, so to speak, more people are going to die,” he said. “I realize that’s not real until it happens. I hope it doesn’t take a tragedy to realize we have to be individually and collectively responsible.”
Packish said he wishes there were fewer exemptions. “It’s imperative that Martha’s Vineyard keep safe and follow Nantucket’s lead,” he said.
Aquinnah, with few businesses, is not taking any action.
Martha’s Vineyard has one case of COVID-19, a 50-year-old Tisbury man who just moved to the Island. Nantucket had its first confirmed case Sunday. As of Sunday afternoon, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website reported 646 cases statewide, but as an illustration of how those stats lag, the Nantucket case is not included in them yet.
The news comes as Martha’s Vineyard businesses are already reeling. J.B. Blau has shut down his restaurants, even for takeout, as have others. Some small businesses closed on their own before the governor’s order.
Shortly after the governor’s announcement, Sam Hart, executive director of The Trustees of Reservations, announced it would close all Trustee properties to the public. “All of our gates and parking lots will be closed and we ask the public to respect these barriers,” he wrote. “The Trustees will continue to operate our agricultural operations in compliance with the guidelines issued for the care and feeding of animals, and the production and distribution of food. The properties will not be open for recreational purposes but only for the pick-up of food products.”
The FARM Institute will be open for pickup of meat and eggs. Donations to the Island Food Pantry of ground beef will continue to help at-risk Islanders who can’t leave their homes, he wrote. “We have been in contact with MV Community Services, IGI and the Island Food Pantry to make sure we are working in coordination and being responsive to the community’s needs,” Hart wrote. “Our education team is also working with the MV Public School System and Charter School to provide online learning activities for students.”
Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, has been fielding calls nonstop from members. “Things are changing so fast that we can’t possibly hope to know what the economic impact would be,” she said. “If we get the all-clear in 45 days, could we have the best summer ever? We have no idea. The fall? We have no idea.”
Gardella has few answers, but is trying to provide support for the shaken business community on the Island as the season approaches with uncertainty. “People are really, really concerned. And of course they are,” she said. “We’re here — I’m in my office alone — in every way we can be, we’re here for the business community. If we don’t know an answer, we’ll try to find it.”
Right now it’s about hope for the future in the bleak present. “As soon as we get the all-clear, we’re going to position Martha’s Vineyard to be forefront in people’s minds,” Gardella said. “Packed streets in August? I don’t think anyone will mind.”
Updated with new information. -ed