Baker tells towns stay-at-home order won’t fly

Gov. Charlie Baker, shown here on a visit to the Island in 2018, is imposing a strict travel order for people coming into Massachusetts from the country's hotspots for COVID-19. - Gabrielle Mannino

A stay-at-home order unanimously approved by five Island towns is getting pushback from the Baker-Polito administration.

The order, which was also approved in concept by Aquinnah, 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. Baker has also declined to issue any kind of a travel ban to slow traffic coming to the Island on the Steamship Authority. 

In a letter to Island town leaders, Robert Ross, the governor’s chief legal counsel wrote that while the Baker-Polito administration recognizes the “value of local decision making in most circumstances” it wanted to ensure an effective response to the COVID-19 crisis with “consistency and clarity of action.”

“A key requirement of any effective, statewide response will be that public officials avoid conflicting directives and duplication of efforts,” Ross wrote citing the Massachusetts Civil Defense Act which reflects the necessity for unified statewide directives in a time of crisis.

Ross also mentioned a provision in Baker’s Monday order.

“This order supersedes and makes inoperative any order or rule issued by a municipality that will or might in any way impede or interfere with the achievement of the objectives of this Order,” the order says in part. “(1) such municipal order or rule will or might interfere with provisions of this order ensuring the continued operation of COVID-19 essential services; or (2) such municipal order or rule will or might interfere with the free travel anywhere within the commonwealth of any person who is a member of any COVID-19 essential workforce where such travel is made in connection with the ongoing operation of COVID-19 essential services.”

Ross specifically mentioned construction projects which, under Baker’s order, are essential services. Towns concerned about health and safety concerns are recommended to continue operations, allow for social distancing protocols, and adopt the state’s “safety stand-down day,” a day designed to ensure all workers follow the guidelines.

Ross adds that any local policies or directives that provide otherwise are in “direct conflict with the order” and should be withdrawn.

“The economic disruption and interruption in critical services and functions that could result from halting construction projects abruptly would be felt statewide and not simply in the locality where a particular project sits,” Ross wrote. “For these reasons, construction projects should continue as long as they observe social distancing protocols and otherwise continue to operate safely.”

Island contractors were critical of the tight restrictions on construction in online comments.

Vineyard town leaders are joining together with Nantucket to ask for an exemption.

Speaking to The Times by phone, Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma said he just got off the phone with town leaders on Nantucket. The Vineyard has been asked to join in a letter with Nantucket asking the Baker to exempt the Vineyard and Nantucket. Donaroma said at the very least to support the two-week construction moratorium.

If the governor continues to move forward with essentially vetoing the Island’s decision then the towns would approach the builder’s association to consider cutting back or discontinuing any off-Island sub contractors for the immediate future, according to Donaroma.

“So at least it’s Island people meaning that we know that every contractor on the Vineyard does not want to lose a single employee to any sort of sickness,” Donaroma said. “When you start bringing in subs a job site can get overwhelmed.”

Several of the towns had also approved separate construction bans prior to the stay-at-home order.

“We don’t want to hurt construction, we want to protect people,” Tisbury selectman Jim Rogers said. Rogers said a letter is being drafted now to rebut Baker’s opinion. “Our letter is very similar to Nantucket’s,” he said.

“Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are writing the governor asking for an exemption,” Oak Bluffs selectmen Brian Packish texted. “We continue to ask people to follow the protocols put in place and if the exemption is denied by the governor follow them as a recommendation in an attempt to keep our hospital workers, families and friends safe.”

“The three Chilmark selectmen are [in support] of a letter similar to the Nantucket letter,” Chilmark selectman Jim Malkin said, “and will do everything we can to get our citizens to adhere to the stay-at-home guidelines that the town and the Island issued yesterday.”

“The construction ban is very important to halt the spread of the virus,” West Tisbury health agent Omar Johnson said in support of a letter during a Wednesday conference call meeting.

At the same meeting, West Tisbury selectmen voted unanimously to join with Nantucket in writing an appeal letter to the governor.  

West Tisbury officials also voted unanimously to close all recreational areas in town save for the beach. 

Reporters Lucas Thors and Rich Saltzberg contributed to this story.


  1. This order is unconstitutional and needs a swift response via a court injunction by the ACLU against the island Towns that decided to create this Orwellian ruling. Has the Governor signed off on this or our local State Reps ? Has Martha’s Vineyard become an independent state that no longer follows Massachusetts Law ? Where is Alan Dershowitz, does he know this stay in place order is directed at him and the entire Hollywood crew that sits on the porch of the Chilmark Store in the summer ? Where is the outrage Seth , Jake, Bill and Larry ?
    The Towns are pretty much slapping you all in the face and telling you that it’s only Ok to come to the Vineyard when we say it is.
    No one wants to see the virus spread , however citizens rights must come first in dealing with this situation. The decision to issue a stay in place order is a slippery slope towards the loss of our civil liberties. Martha’s Vineyard has gone bat crazy over a virus that presently has thousands of fewer deaths and millions less in hospitalizations than this years seasonal flu. The overreach of power by the Town’s Selectmen in order to somehow force tax paying property owners not to travel to their property should they wish at anytime for any reason must be condemned by the entire Vineyard community.

    • Agreed fully. I would support a universal ban on all activity but don’t try and tell me I can’t hire a roofer to repair my roof while thousands of others are allowed to work. I see some rich selectmen probably worth 20 million saying they support a building ban while I can’t fix my roof.

    • I totally understand the free
      movement of persons argument, although I think you might be overreacting a bit considering the actual legal teeth of the order. I’m really curious though as to what you think might happen if all the folks with secondary or even tertiary residences decided to come to the “safe haven” of MV. You are familiar with the limitations of our off-season staffing limitations and the resources of our ICU right?

    • Thank you Vineyardlife – agreed. What the towns have neglected to tell everyone is that they (the Island towns) will have to pay theses workers up to 3/4 of their lost wages as a result of their emergency orders. How many of the town decision makers traveled to parts unknown in January, February and March? Why did they wait so long to take action? Why did they not ask for public input or post their emergency meeting minutes promptly? What have they done to help the community of homeless people living in the State Forest? The list goes on and on…

  2. It really says something when the Governor of the state and his staff take time out of dealing with a pandemic to tell island ‘leadership’ NO!
    This is why there should be regional/centralized government on the island with a real emergency manager to network with MEMA and FEMA.

  3. This week my associates and I have been interviewing residential builders and building materials dealers in various parts of the country about their response to COVID-19. (I live here but have a virtual research job.) The companies we have spoken with are still operating but have put work-at-home processes into place for office employees, and have created jobsite safety protocols that include, and sometimes exceed, social distancing and other CDC recommendations. The the results are encouraging. In all cases, workers are stepping up to ensure that everyone follows the safety protocols. Contractors here on the Vineyard are perfectly capable of doing the same.

  4. Before anyone writes a letter claiming they represent me or the Island, like the Selectmen, lets have at least some public comment.

  5. What I am seeing is many selectmen and the MV Builders group representing a high heeled select group of Islanders who cater to the wealthy. The poorer Islanders or construction workers have No representation And are not consulted with regarding their needs. This Is a trend I am seeing grow.

  6. I’m home because construction shut down on Monday….I could easily social distance at work. As far as using the “facilities ” on job sites just make sure we have a lot of Lysol wipes and a trash can to throw them in. please let me know via a headline in the MV Times when we can all get back to work!
    I know we need to flatten the curve but we can’t be at a stand still indefinitely.

  7. As an island contractor, I have gone through a similar range of emotions and attitudes that have been expressed by the above commentators.
    This work stoppage affects me financially in a big way, as I am in no way even close to being “high heeled”.
    But frankly, this is NOT about me, the health and safety of the people that work for me are infinitely more important than my bottom line.
    Two weeks of unemployment will hurt a lot of island folk and we need to figure a way to assist those in need.
    Maybe the banks will give a month’s forgiveness for mortgage payments, then landlords could afford to give their tenants some relief.
    As much as it hurts, I am going to honor the Island and close my Jobsite until I get word that it’s safe to go back to work. The town restrictions are not there to take away our rights. The restrictions are well intended and are for the protection of all of us.
    There are 267,000 confirmed cases in the US right now.
    This virus is incredibly contagious and there is no end in sight.

    • Well done. It seems people do not understand what is unfolding and what will happen if serious actions are not started immediately to effectively limiting exposure to contagion.

      • Well spake; however, the only measure that has any chance of impacting the spread is a shutdown of the island to tourists (and foreign workers) arriving in the not to distant future – but such action will expose our collective open-borders hypocrisy.

  8. Under the current circumstances a worker at a construction site is about the safest place you can be. With construction being shut down only makes maintaining separation much more difficult. It significantly adds to the number of people going to the grocery stores, pharmacies and liquor stores all throughout the day. Exactly the opposite of what should be taking place. There are no easy answers, but construction poses no threat. I’m guessing the governor was able to recognize that.

  9. I believe we could think through this ban on construction. Ban off-island construction workers, set in place safety protocols for job-sites and lumber stores, and keep it going for islanders.

  10. municipal construction like building highways, bridges, schools and alike is essential services. residential home construction and the lions share of commercial construction is absolutely not. it’s no easier to social distance on a framing/roofing or any other kind of crew than it is at any other non essential business that’s closed for public health concerns. to say otherwise implies a lack of understanding of what the nature of that work entails.

  11. On 9/11 the entire aviation system was shut down for a week plus. People freaked, but they weren’t up in arms about not flying. A week or two is no amount of time to do what is right to protect yourself and others.
    I suggest all the people out there concerned about the Stay At Home warning, look up the word PANDEMIC.
    I have been social distancing for 3 weeks, I have worn a mask. I washed my hands. with the sanitizer in my vehical. I would go to the lumber yard to pick up material, stop at the coffee shop for a cuppa. Sunday I came down with bronchitis. ???

    It didn’t magically appear. Did I get someone’s breath mist on my cloths, hands, or mask? So you men out there I am over 65, I rank high on the possibility list to catching this thing. Take into consideration that there are a lot of other people you come in contact with while social distancing that you may have helped spread other flu like germs or viruses.
    Stay home. Clean the house. Do something other than think that two weeks out of your life is the end of the world.. MV will bounce back. If you are resistant enough you will bounce back.

    I hope my staying at home and relying on concerned neighbors gets me through this (wink wink think of others) lets get through this together, stay in touch with friends & family and hopefully see you in 2 weeks or more.

  12. I see a lot of comments here about how safe construction sites (or any other working area) can be. Unfortunately experience and numbers from Europe should teach you better. The Covid-19 is an extremely aggressive and easy to spread virus. Its survival time on different surfaces is still not totally known but it is considered to be very long (hours or even days). Medical personnel despite the use of PPE specifically designed for contaminated areas get sick. I totally understand the fear and difficulties of being without work (my job is as contractor/consultant and I’m out of business as well right now) but thinking of working “safe” under the circumstances is unfortunately a fair tale. The only way to stop the spreading of the virus is a “lock down”; the sooner it is done the sooner the contagion will end. I see here people going shopping in the supermarket as usual. There should be a control in place allowing only a limited number of customers inside at any given time based on the surface of the shop (as it is done in Europe). This will create long queues (even hours) that are very uncomfortable but, once again, provide the only real protection (even if not perfect). The later strict quarantine is enforced the more the virus will spread. This happened all over the world and, unfortunately, will happen here as well unless we put people health before people business. It will be hard but we can, and we will, survive it.

    • And when the 2 week lockdown is ended? What then? Oops, here comes Coronavirus again. It’ll need to be a lot longer than 2 weeks, or it will have been a very, very ill-advised lockdown…

  13. Other states which are ‘hot spots’ have not yet banned construction projects. Maybe if they did, the spread would have slowed down. I don’t know. Social distancing on a construction site is no different than social distancing at the food store or gas station except they all share the same port-a-potty .

  14. Baker doesn’t live here and obviously doesn’t care much about our situation. If Baker put a non essential travel ban on both the Bourne and Sagamore bridges as well as our airports weeks ago, not only would we not be in this horrible situation but the Cape and Islands would be able to assist the rest of the state while still working keeping the MA economy going. We would not be putting a strain on our unemployment system and would keep the scarce medical supplies in need down to a minimum. We could have probably even donated medical supplies to the rest of the state as well as be a second defense with extra nurses and doctors ready to head to the front lines if needed. On top of that Cape and Island lives would be saved. We could have even possible moved the elderly from the rest of the state to our noon infected area, saving more lives.
    As a sub contractor in the construction field, I am bleeding right now. Not sure how I’ll pay rent (I can’t collect unemployment) and make it, but I will. You will too. I totally understand wanting to get back to work and make money. We need to sacrifice right now as a county. Struggling to catch up for a few months is worth it if it will save island lives. Getting back to work might not knock this virus down and we’ll be out of work for so much longer if the virus persists. Lets not be selfish. I know how hard it is for some of us to ask for help, but now is the time to do things outside of our comfort zone to reassure our community is safe and healthy.
    Hang in there. I’m in the same boat.

  15. Two things, first, in the whole rest of the state, construction is still going on. If you do not pile up 10+ people on a construction site everyone should be fine. Being safe on a Jobsite and social distancing should go hand in hand. The general contractor should schedule the trades to wait until one gets thru before scheduling the next phase of workers to begin. Only makes sense, right?
    Second, there is no way that legally you can stop off-island contractors from working on the island. You have as much chance of that as you do not allowing summer residents from comming to the island this time of year. The steamship is not going to frisk people for tools as they board the boat. This is not their resposibility and they have no legal right to do this.
    Limit the number of people present on the jobsite, we can all go back to work and feed our families, and everything will be OK

  16. Don’t be that person. We will remember who’s trucks we are on the road / job sites and who is respecting this island community.

    • Are you kidding? You will remember what trucks/cars are from off island? What are you going to do to them? You are the one who’s harassing off islanders who are on the island to get away from the population density where they live! All the locals need to accept the fact that there are off islanders on “your” island. Funny enough, how can you tell who is from the island and who’s not? Pretty sure the majority of off islanders have MA plates and you don’t even know they are from off island!!! So it’s really just against people from NY, NJ, RI, PA, CT, NH, VT??? Those are the plates I see.
      You’ll remember the plates of people who are here to get away from a potential deadly situation? Would you not do the same if it was YOUR family you were trying to protect???

      And to the man video taping people coming off the ferry: STOP! Why do you do this? What are you doing with the footage?

      • She didn’t say anything about off island people. Read before commenting, she said people will remember the cars ON THE ROAD, as in not respecting the stay construction ban. Relax

  17. island girl, you have no more right to be on this island than does anyone else.
    To the person videotaping vehicles coming on the island. How about you spend your time doing something more useful, like helping out at the food pantry. It seems you have ample time on your hands.
    Don’t be that person, how about don’t be that person that is in a full stage panic over something you have no control over.
    Stay at home, and again do not fall victim to the TV hype just for them to gain viewers. shut off the news.
    Watch a Disney video with your kids or something family-oriented, go for a walk
    Don’t let the media wind you up as they obviously have done

  18. It may be time to start considering the possibility that there might not be any “summer” for us this year. After decades of systematically excluding most meaningful year round commercial activity we are woefully dependent on the big summer money influx – may not happen this year. Start thinking about how to survive next winter.

  19. If one agrees with the idea, as I do, that this virus has impacted all of us with grief, I think we can all agree that there are stages to the grieving process– until we arrive at acceptance: Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and Acceptance. It’s easy to see where each person is at the moment they comment here. Grieving (our lost way of life) isn’t a smooth, step by step process. Instead you can be feeling two or three emotions, get past one or another, and then go back to it. It’s a hellish thing, but we have to do it and we will. The most concerning to our community should be those who are stuck in the denial stage. It’s understandable but damaging to the larger whole. If you deny what we must ALL do, you prolong everyone’s misery by not being careful enough in how you conduct your daily life. I agree with Hanley and his acceptance of reality– start thinking about how to survive next winter. The summer will not be normal anywhere, even though Trump (the guy who announced that the 15 cases would soon be zero and everything is completely under control) has decided to divide the country into areas that are high, medium, and low risk. Where do you think the Vineyard will rank with its influx of summer residents from all the hotspots in the country? Life, as we knew it, is over for a long time. We have to deal with this new normal.

  20. Jackie,

    In these trying times I should not go off topic as you did. But, suddenly, life as we knew it here on the island in 1969, would never be the same.

    I am in possession of a photo where Chief Arena is talking during a national press event, just off the steps outside of the courthouse in Edgartown. For a few seconds his hand rests on the top of my head (click) as I sneak closer on my stingray bike. This is the time when things REALLY changed forever, here.

    I have read a few articles which state that this is not the reason the island was ruined. They are incorrect. Stay safe.

  21. I won’t go get my mail. Mail delivery should be considered. It has to be piling up at the PO. Is this another order waiting to be okayed by the federal gov? If we can put a bin of recyclables out for pickup, we can get mail dropped off. Take online requests -deliver once a week-if necessary.UPS and Fedex do it daily. Or set up a “doorbell” at front of VH PO nearest Cumbies. The enclosed double door system can be santized. People wait in their cars. Text PO.PO worker put up sign with name or PO Box. Person shows ID thru glass. Or a slot where PO worker pushes envelope size mail out. Slow at first maybe others have ideas. I am just thinking on the fly here. Our great great grandparents waited for mail via Pony Express. Any input for other ideas. Surely this will reduce risk of spreading virus. Grocery food delvery? Remember the milkman. Brainstorm this anyone?

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