Five towns approve stay-at-home order

Island towns take action after Gov. Baker’s order didn’t go far enough.


Updated 6 pm, Tuesday

Para os nossos leitores que falam português

Escute a interpretação em português do que significam as ordens “Fique em casa/ abrigo no local” em West Tisbury. As regras são muito semelhantes as de Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, Edgartown e Chilmark. Aquinnah votará na quinta-feira.

Chilmark, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Tisbury have all unanimously approved a stay-at-home order requirement for residents of those towns. Aquinnah met earlier in the day and approved it in concept, but couldn’t officially approve because the document wasn’t ready. The Island’s sixth town will take it up Thursday.

The move is an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Island leaders felt Gov. Charlie Baker’s advisory, which went into effect at 12 noon on Tuesday, was not enough, particularly on the Island. On Tuesday, the number of cases in Massachusetts rose from 777 to 1,159, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It was the largest single increase since the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Dukes County Commission approved an emergency declaration. The county has no authority when it comes to the stay-at-home order, but approved of the concept. The emergency declaration makes the Vineyard eligible for Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency aid and reimbursement for expenditures.

Denise Schepici, CEO of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, praised the cooperative effort. “I am pleased,” she wrote in a brief text message. Shepici said an influx of seasonal visitors threatens to overburden the Island’s community hospital.

Chilmark’s order was already in place as of 5 pm Tuesday.

“Please keep the stay-in-place orders,” Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour said at a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday. “We’re trying to limit people’s exposure and save people’s lives.”

Oak Bluffs’ order will go into effect on March 25, at 5 pm, and last until April 7 — unless selectmen choose to extend it.

Tisbury officials discussed the issue for an hour and half, refining the language in a construction moratorium that had been approved earlier by Chilmark, Edgartown, and West Tisbury. Selectmen wanted the board of health and department heads like the police and fire chiefs added to the people who would determine an emergency. The board then took out a construction reference in the stay-at-home order, and added a provision that references back to the construction ban. Both the selectmen and board of health approved the two provisions unanimously, though one member of the board of health was not present.

“This is to really, really enforce the social distance of everyone on-Island,” Melinda Loberg, chair of the Tisbury board of selectmen, said. “Two weeks isn’t forever. It’s a limited time that could make all of the difference.”

West Tisbury’s selectmen and board of health unanimously approved the order, which will go into effect in that town on Wednesday at noon until April 7 at noon. Town counsel Ron Rappaport deferred questions on the particulars of enforcement, and instead said the main function of the order was to act as a deterrent to those who would travel to the Vineyard during the pandemic. Of those people on-Island, he said, “We’re asking people to voluntarily comply.”

Edgartown also voted to adopt and implement the order starting at midnight Tuesday. As with other towns, the order will be enforced by the police department, in conjunction with the board of health.

“It’s unfortunate that this is where we are. I was in the yard this afternoon, and it was eerily quiet. It reminded me of 9/11,” said chair of the board of selectmen, Margaret Serpa. 

Selectman Michael Donaroma said he has received several letters from contractors and other members of the public that are in favor of the order, and that it is necessary to “err on the side of caution.”

“This gives us two weeks to plan for the next two weeks,” Donaroma said. 

Disobeying the order can result in a fine of up to $1,000.

Chilmark selectmen shared a similar sentiment.

“My view is unfortunately, and reluctantly, we need to limit people coming here — the next five to 10 [days] we’re going to see what’s happening with our curve,” selectman and Steamship Authority chairman Jim Malkin said. He went on to say he believed the hospital and Island boards of health were united in the belief that “we need to do everything that we can to restrict travel to the Island.” And he characterized the order as  something “we can do to help them.”

Speaking in clinical support of the order, health agent Marina Lent said there are areas of the U.S. “that have demonstrated extremely intensive community spread,” and that “many of the people who own homes here do come from such areas.” 

“I don’t want to start discriminating on that basis,” Malkin said. 

Selectman Bill Rossi said he would be troubled to ask people who have already traveled to Chilmark to leave. There is no requirement in the order that off-Islanders leave Chilmark. 

Chilmark was the first to approve the order, and most of them, with the exception of the noodling Tisbury did, require residents to remain in their houses, unless they are going out for essential jobs related to healthcare and public safety. Residents can go outside for recreation, but are ordered not to be in groups of five or more.

If you are not a first responder, a medical provider, or other “COVID-19 essential services” provider, travel within the town is prohibited. Some exemptions are if:


  • You are getting/providing food, medicine, fuel; 
  • You are safe-distancing, and hiking, biking, swimming, exercising outdoors; or 
  • You are working for a restaurant or liquor store and are providing takeout or delivery services; 
  • You are traveling to care for elderly persons, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.


The order prohibits residential rentals and motel rentals unless a contract was in place before the order takes effect. The order will be enforced by the town’s health agent and police.

Restaurants and other food establishments are authorized to provide takeout service only if they were operating legally before the order. 

Brian Dowd, George Brennan, and Lucas Thors contributed to this report.


  1. “I don’t think the passage of people across Vineyard Sound is our greatest concern.”
    I could not disagree more strongly with that statement. A travel ban on the ferry is the essential key to averting a massive outbreak and chaos. Town officials must make every effort to convince Gov Baker to immediately enact a travel ban on the ferry. Food and medical only, for at least the near future. Please.

  2. I would especially like to thank “Toyota Sequoia” pictured above. Congrats, you’re the face of the influx and not out of character with many. If you are not year round here and are reading this, well, you’re here now, act like you live here and these are your family members. Because that’s what we do.

    • Dean you’re a typical washashore. A critic about everything with knowledge about little. I have read and personally heard your rants about the SSA, bashing local restaurants and now your insolent comments about people that just want to feel safe where they own a home make many of us recoil during this time. Most of you are transplants and being online bashing others, well, you should be ashamed of yourself. You’re not from here and your comments telling others how they should act should be heeded yourself. Stop being so rude.

  3. All of you leading the “Respect the Locals” crusade and have taken a break from Islanders Talk sure don’t mind accepting the property taxes from these people who you are unwelcoming. Can’t have it both ways.

  4. On a positive note are the malaria drugs being tried on the two cases we have? The results have been amazing on the news.

  5. Glad to see some leadership! Hope it helps!! Does anyone know if we can drive to a hiking trail to exercise? Our neighborhood is not conducive for family walks. Thank you.

  6. What about the fact that anyone traveling from New York is being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days?? Are we enforcing that? Seeing a lot of NY license plates around…

Comments are closed.