Updated 12 noon
Martha’s Vineyard officials would like to slow the number of people coming to the Island and control the movement of those people on the Island in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Thus far state leaders have been unwilling to help with the Steamship Authority. Gov. Charlie Baker has urged people not to come and instituted a ban on nonessential businesses, but has stopped short of issuing a travel ban.
“I am exploring every legal avenue to restrict the transportation of people to this Island [in order] to limit the spread of the coronavirus,” Jim Malkin, the Vineyard representative to the Steamship Authority board, told The Times. “But we cannot get the legal authority to do so. And we’re not done trying.”
Three Island towns have also imposed construction bans, in part, to restrict workers commuting back and forth to the Island. The governor’s ban on nonessential business exempts home construction, so Oak Bluffs is considering more stringent restrictions when it meets on Tuesday, Oak Bluffs selectman Brian Packish told The Times. Tisbury selectmen also meet Tuesday afternoon and have revised their agenda to include a “shelter-in-place” order for the town.
Chilmark has scheduled an emergency meeting at 1 pm Tuesday to consider the shelter-in-place order. West Tisbury has also posted a meeting for 5:10 pm Tuesday to consider it and Edgartown meets at 5 pm.
Tisbury Town Administrator Jay Grande said town counsel David Doneski of KP Law is at work with Ron Rappapport of Reynolds, Rappaport, Kaplain, and Hackney, town counsel for the other five Vineyard towns, on draft language for a document each town can use to potentially enhance stay-at-home orders and limits of assembly. Grande said Doneski penned Nantucket’s recent security statement. Speaking for Tisbury, Grande said, “the town can be more restrictive” than what Gov. Baker outlined. Grande said assembly of “no more than two people” is on the table.
On Monday, selectmen from every Island town held an emergency teleconference and agreed to draft the stay-at-home order similar to an order adopted by Nantucket. If voted, the order is likely to go into effect by the end of the day Wednesday.
The teleconference meeting included members of each town’s board of selectmen, all six town administrators, some town health agents, and other members of the boards of health.
Oak Bluffs selectman Brian Packish told The Times by phone Tuesday that the members of the meeting wanted to use Nantucket’s stay-at-home order as a guide.
“The action Nantucket developed is very dialed-in to an Island region,” he said. “The intent would be to put in place a policy that is consistent with what Nantucket did.”
Packish added that it was time for the Island to take action especially since the hospital can only take on so many patients.
“The goal is we need to flatten the curve. The surgeon general made it clear it was make or break it moment. Flattening the curve saves lives,” Packish said. “We have a finite amount of resources when they’re exhausted they’re exhausted.”
Aquinnah selectmen and members of the board of health agreed to support other Island towns Tuesday by endorsing a construction moratorium and the concept of an Island-wide order. Because there was no official document to vote on, Aquinnah is scheduling a meeting for Thursday to formalize it.
“We want to fall in line with other towns on the Island without upsetting the apple cart,” said town administrator Jeff Madison.
Malkin said he would like to see the ferry limit put in place for two weeks. Freight and emergency service would still be available to keep the supply chain to the Island running.
Nantucket issued a stay-at-home order effective Monday. The Times polled readers of its daily newsletter, The Minute, to ask if the Vineyard should follow Nantucket’s lead and the response was resounding yes, with 76.3 percent approving of that idea.
While islands across the country have issued advisories limiting access to visitors and seasonal residents since coronavirus hit the shores of the United States, Martha’s Vineyard has witnessed an uptick in seasonal residents coming to the Island to seek a safe haven.
That’s demonstrated in such anecdotal evidence as reports of seeing six cars parked at the Lambert’s Cove Beach lot and three of them having out-of-state plates; in the analytics from the MVTimes website and the Minute newsletter, which reveal the location of readers in numbers that look more typical for June. In the online comments on The Times site some year-round residents have expressed anger about the insurgence and seasonal residents have defended themselves as taxpaying-citizens with every right to seek refuge on the Island.
On Sunday, the Steamship Authority released statistics that show more activity. According to the data, compared with the first 15 days of March last year, there have been 264 additional vehicle trips to the Island with Massachusetts addresses and 102 additional vehicle trips by customers with New York or New Jersey addresses. Customers from other New England states, besides Massachusetts, were down 21.
On Friday, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici issued a joint statement with her colleague at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital asking seasonal residents to stay away because of the hospital’s limited capabilities.
In the meantime, the SSA “will have signs up in ticket terminals, on the tickets, and on the receipts for passenger tickets, advising the hospital’s advice to stay away,” Malkin said.
In the background, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cry, D-Truro, pushed for state assistance, as well.
According to Malkin, the two legislators have also been “actively trying to assist on this.”
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) didn’t comment on whether it would intervene in ferry service but issued an unsigned statement indicating it would continue to help the Steamship Authority maintain a lifeline.
“In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) continues to coordinate and communicate with our transportation sector partners, including the Steamship Authority, to ensure movement of critical supplies and resources needed during this outbreak,” the agency said through a statement.
“There have been no shortage of conversations with them,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said. Patriot Party Boats president Jim Tietje, whose company runs the Patriot ferry to Oak Bluffs, said he plans to reduce his schedule from eight runs per day to four. Tietje said while it’s hard to forecast what passengers his boats may convey in the coming days, those trips from Falmouth also carry everything from “fresh-baked goods to auto parts” and he expects that to continue to bring over such cargo unless more drastic restrictions are imposed. Boat-sanitation-wise, Tietje said, “we are wiping them down as best we can.”
George Brennan, Brian Dowd, and Lucas Thors contributed to this report. Updated to include more details. -ed.