Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have united against Gov. Charlie Baker’s position on measures the Islands took to curb the spread of the novel corona virus. After receiving pushback from the Baker-Polito administration following votes for their own, more comprehensive local restrictions, the Islands have drafted a letter asking for an exemption from the governor’s order designating, among other things, construction and landscaping as essential services. Signed by the chairs of the boards of selectmen, the six towns of the Vineyard and the town and county of Nantucket expressed the belief that without the local restrictions they enacted, their limited medical and municipal resources would be overwhelmed by mounting numbers of infected people leading to a possible “humanitarian crisis”.
“It is the sincere and measured concern of the elected and appointed leaders, public safety and public health officials of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and of the President of the Nantucket Cottage Hospital and the CEO of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the only hospitals on each island,” the letter states, “that failure to follow through with the construction bans and stay-at-home orders as approved will put the Islands on an irreversible course, leading to an excessive strain on the medical system, law enforcement, EMTs, and potentially to a humanitarian crisis where doctors are forced to make difficult choices about who can be saved. Unlike hospitals on the mainland, there is nowhere else to send people who need treatment for the virus. There is also no ‘stepdown’ facility available to address the needs of other people who have other urgent medical problems. The Town and County of Nantucket, and the Towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury are explicitly and fervently requesting your help now by modifying the application of your order to provide that on the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, construction and landscaping services are non-essential services and must remain closed.”
The letter explains the Islands have “limited or no mutual aid” for public health and public safety, swollen out-of-season populations, and limited fire and police personnel.
“Police and fire department capacity in Nantucket and on Martha’s Vineyard is calculated to address public health and safety needs of a winter population,” the letter states. “The Islands are very concerned about potential exposure of our first responders. Nantucket already has at least three self-quarantines of public safety personnel and that number could easily rise as more people need to be transported. There are also three public safety personnel on Martha’s Vineyard in self-quarantine.”
The letter goes on to state that if social distancing falls short or regulations are relaxed, the resultant community spread would infect a “significant portion of the population” with COVID-19. It emphasizes the small size of both Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Nantucket Cottage Hospital and their finite amounts of relevant medical equipment. If these institutions are overwhelmed, which they predict if their local restrictions are overruled, Island leaders fear Boston hospitals are unlikely to take transfer patients due to being swamped too.
“The Islands are also aware that there is a possibility that the hospitals’ partners in Boston could be at capacity when the Islands need them most, leaving the Nantucket Cottage Hospital and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital with severely limited or even no ability to transfer patients needing ICU-level care,” the letter states. “Moreover, the need for COVID-19 treatment will make the need for other types of hospital care acute, and further stress an already stressed system.”
While some contractors have expressed acceptance for the local restrictions imposed on them, the letter points out others have sought permission to return to work following the gubernatorial opinion. The letter argues if they return to work, the contagion will get out of hand.
Officials implored Gov. Baker to change his stance on Nantucket and Vineyard’s restrictions.
The letter was signed by Dawn E. Hill Holdgate, chair, Nantucket Select Board, Juli Vanderhoop, chair, Aquinnah Board of Selectmen, Warren M. Dotty, c/hair, Chilmark Board of Selectmen, Margaret E. Serpa, chair, Edgartown Board of Selectmen, Brian Packish,chair, Oak Bluffs Board of Selectmen, Melinda F. Loberg, chair, Tisbury Board of Selectmen, and Skipper Manter, chair, West Tisbury Board of Selectmen.