Should we stay or should we go?

Year-round and part-time residents weigh the options during pandemic.

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There's been a lot of debate on the Island about seasonal residents coming to the Vineyard at this time. - Lexi Pline

Laurel Schneider had a decision to make, and it was a difficult one: where should she stay-at-home during the COVID-19 pandemic? She could stay on Martha’s Vineyard where she’s been since last April working on two books during her sabbatical, and have her spouse, Emilie Townes, join her in Oak Bluffs. She could leave the Island and head back to Tennessee to be with Townes. Or they could each stay in place.

Schneider, a professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University, and Townes, dean of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt and a professor of ethics, made the difficult decision to stay apart.

Initially, Schneider wanted her to come “so we wouldn’t go through this alone.” They purchased an airline ticket. “Then the hospital came out with their statement and we took a huge step back. She’s got some underlying conditions,” Schneider said. The 25 beds, three intensive care beds, and shortage of supplies all made that decision easier. “She can’t come here.”

But what about Schneider going back to Nashville? She thought about it. But how to do it safely and not bring the virus to her spouse. She would have to stop at gas stations for fuel and use public restrooms. Where would she sleep?

One option in Nashville would have been for Schneider to stay in a friend’s apartment during a 14-day self-quarantine to make sure she didn’t infect Townes. But that friend’s house was destroyed in the tornadoes that devastated Tennessee in February. “It seemed like the safer thing for me was for her to stay there and me to stay here,” Schneider said.

Though she’s been on-Island for a year, Schneider is conscious of the Tennessee license plates on the car. “It’s hard to interpret looks,” she said. “I wish I could roll down my window and say, ‘I’ve been here all year. I didn’t come to escape the virus.’”

Laurel Schneider keeping in touch with her spouse and her sister through technology. – Courtesy Laurel Schneider

So she stays here. She continues to try to write, though it’s been difficult to concentrate. And Townes is in Nashville, where she has Vanderbilt Medical Center nearby to meet her medical needs. Schneider connects with Townes three times a day using FaceTime. On Saturday, they had a “cocktail party” through What’s App with her sister, Bethany, and Bethany’s spouse, Kate Thomas, who are working in Ireland.

The issue of seasonal residents coming to the Island has been debated in online comments and on social media. A seasonal resident of Aquinnah from Manhattan, who asked that her name not be used because of some of the hostilities, told The Times her son went for an oil change appointment only to be turned away when the employee spotted the vehicle’s New York license plate. The woman clarified that she thought it was more out of concern about personal safety than animosity.

The woman said she understood the hospital’s limitations, but felt like coming to the Island and following the proper protocols of social distancing and staying home would limit her family’s risks of needing the hospital. She wants to make it clear the family arrived well before the hospital made its public appeal. “The way we thought about it, we consider ourselves low risk, if we take every precaution advised,” she said, noting that’s what is being asked of all U.S. citizens — Islanders or not.

The Steamship Authority released statistics that show more traffic than the previous year on-Island. 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.

According to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, there are 11,200 second homes on Martha’s Vineyard, which account for an estimated 64 percent of the housing stock.

The woman whose son was refused an oil change told The Times she understands the anxiety about people coming to the Island to seek refuge, as well as the hospital warning about its limitations. “I am truly sympathetic with these fears and realities. But I think the Island and its leadership should, despite these fears, strike a slightly different tone. The whole country is strained. Can’t we work together, taking proper precautions?” she wrote.

Many folks on and off the Island have that difficult decision to make, and part-time Aquinnah resident Jack Fruchtman, a frequent Times contributor, recently made the decision to leave his life on the Island and head to his home in Maryland.

While some folks are coming to the Island in an attempt to escape the close quarters of urban living or the anxiety of living in a heavily infected area, Fruchtman decided to leave because he thought that if he or his wife got sick, they would be taking away from the already limited resources of the hospital.

“It was a very tough decision. We decided there are no right answers, but we had to make a choice, and we did,” Fruchtman said. 

Although many of Fruchtman’s friends urged him to stay put, Fruchtman packed up all the food in the pantry and refrigerator of his Aquinnah home and headed for the city.

Fruchtman noted that even though he is in the age group that is considered especially vulnerable to this virus, he decided to alleviate some of the pressures put on medical staff and free up some vital resources for Islanders.

“Among other things, this decision has caused a whole lot of fear, which makes sense, this thing is deadly and terrifying,” Fruchtman said. “But we decided if we got sick and had to go to the hospital on the Island, we would be taking the space from some people who have been on the Island for generations.”

Currently, Fruchtman said he is reading a couple good books and taking lots of walks with his wife, although he said he does miss the wide open spaces of his home on the Island.

“We are just hunkered down and trying to stay safe,” Fruchtman said. 

In a time when decisions on whether to stay or go could drastically affect the entire Island population, Fruchtman said everyone has the responsibility to make their own choices using their own best judgment.

“You can call it altruism, but I think it was just the right thing to do. It seems like we did not belong there,” Fruchtman said. “Everyone has their own judgment to make, I’m not going to condemn people for deciding to go to the Island or stay there.”

Joel Sheveck is one of those folks who decided to forego his visit to the Island in order to avoid putting additional stress on the community’s already strained resources. 

For five years, Sheveck was the general manager of Swordfish Enterprises, which runs the Homeport Restaurant, the Menemsha Inn, and the Beach Plum Inn.

In November of 2018, he moved to New Hampshire to work in the hospitality field. 

He planned to visit his former co-workers for a week in April, then his elderly parents in New York, and his girlfriend in Rhode Island. Instead, he’s staying home.

“I will not be going to the Vineyard this time around, nor will I be going to visit my elderly parents in New York. I have asthma and bad environmental allergies in which Martha’s Vineyard hospital has seen me a few times,” Sheveck said in an email. “I would not jeopardize any others should I happen to carry this, nor do I feel comfortable taxing the hospital there with helping me should I become ill.”

Sheveck said his experience in the hospitality industry has allowed him to “fully feel the pinch of the situation we’re in.”

“The best thing is to stay isolated and at home whenever possible,” he said. “I’ll set my sights on a visit in the fall, which is my favorite season anyway.”

Reporter Lucas Thors contributed to this story. -ed.

44 COMMENTS

  1. If this article is supposed to make us feel bad for you New York, New Jersey people
    It’s not working.
    Partner or no partner, been here all year, or been here 10 minutes.
    Still no sympathy. there are more beds in the Harborview hotel than in our little hospital, think about that

    • sprinkle in a little humanity with that vitriol. your message would be better received. Angry black or white rhetoric is just a blow-off for you and unpleasant for the rest.

    • I believe that your view is shortsighted. Please take into account that the pandemic started way back in January, 2020. In that time, hundreds of people, mostly Islanders, have been traveling back and forth for work, school, sporting events and doctor visits. To all of sudden think that a virus will recognize a full-time Islander from non-residents is foolish.
      An individual who has been off-Island in the last 3 months has already shed a viral load enough to infect 50 people through personal contact. That includes those who feel the most immune: teenagers and GenXers.
      I do agree that self-isolation and quarantine for those experiencing soft symptoms is paramount to protect others, I feel to suddenly believe that a small group of people from out-of-state are solely responsible for the spread of a virus that does not discriminate or care where you are from, is wrong.
      Yes, overloading a healthcare system here that is sorely unprepared to handle a pandemic (through no fault of it’s own) is disasterous, please consider that blaming “other” people for a current administration that took no action despite warnings from its own Intelligence Community, maybe displaced.

  2. IMHO the biggest danger to the island was the delayed shut down of many businesses, including construction. People coming and going via the ferry every day were certainly a much greater number than the few seasonal residents arriving from away. Frankly, I was astounded at the number of cars and small trucks, mostly with Massachusetts plates, arriving on the island each day. Instead of focusing on where someone is from maybe focus on what they do and the actions they take to protect their fellow islanders. A couple living safely in their own home is much less of a threat than a group of construction workers moving all over the island and back and forth to the mainland. In any case, it is too late now. Numbers are huge and growing in Massachusetts and soon the island will be seeing the exponential rise.

    • You are correct. The daily work force commuters are a far more risky group than the summer home owners who arrive and stay put. Too bad we don’t have enough housing for our work force.

    • Exactly! The Bourne Market Basket is full of “Islanders” as is the Home Depot and Walmart. What will be remembered after this is over is the hatred shown towards seasonal residents. It’s always been there, but now it’s seemingly okay.
      There are LOTS of areas in Massachusetts where there is only one hospital within an hour’s travel…some of them not much bigger, but supporting much larger populations.
      How about instead of showing fear and hate…we just try to work together?

  3. Just do the right thing and quarantine for 14 days. Low risk in getting sick is different from low risk of passing it on. If one is out getting groceries or gas or an oil change you are not quarantined and that puts others at risk. Just do what is being asked of you when you arrive here.

  4. When you come here and are not a resident sick or not, if you get sick while here are you going to get back on the boat and make the trek back to where you and your family put your name on your census in your time of need? Or are you going to overwhelm our little hospital? That is one of the considerations not made by non residents.

  5. The biggest danger to all has been from the lack of available testing and masks and gloves for every single person— from the beginning. But yes, at this point people must quarantine themselves when they come over, no matter where they are coming from.

  6. Did a MV Times reporter try to verify the story about the person being turned away? I don’t believe it. Please try to verify, even if you choose not to name the place.

    • I’m curious about this as well. I’m thinking it’s more likely the kid got turned away because he didn’t have an appointment for an oil change.

      • Since a couple of you have mentioned this, I updated the story. The son had an appointment and the mother clarified that she believes he was turned away, not out of animosity, but because the employee was concerned about personal safety.

  7. Vineyard should be on full lock down except for the ferries bring food and supplies to the Island. With only 25 hospital beds and limited medical professionals to handle an influx of people trying to escape the coronavirus, the Island would be overwhelmed.

    • So quarantine the island?? The president wasn’t able to get that to happen in NY, NJ and CT, what makes you think this would fly here??

  8. Unfortunately, to the islanders, It’s not just YOUR island. People who own property here should be allowed to come here. They made a larger hospital to accommodate year rounders and seasonal residents alike.
    This whole thing would have gone a lot smoother if the locals were nicer to the seasonal residents as this whole thing unfolded. Being yelled at and given the finger? As I’ve said before here, this is an opportunity for our country to get closer together than further apart

    • No, MV Hospital is not able to accommodate everyone in the event of a crisis. Far from. They’ve said as much. It’s the job of the public to respect the hospital’s official position, which is based on math. All the talk of personal freedom and enjoyment of summer homes has been really inappropriate. Many are sacrificing their incomes or health to try and keep this under control. They need our full support. It’s not the time to make decisions based on our preferences. I live on the Island year-round and pay taxes off-Island. That’s not an excuse for me to travel. We are supposed to stay put in our primary homes. All of us. No one was singled out when we were told to stay home unless essential. If people with more than one property consider themselves an exception, the collective efforts won’t be as effective.

      • Sadly, I think you are missing the point of why people are coming here. Many are the making the decision out of desperation to get away from a very dangerous situation. Trying to get them and their families away from the hot spots. Self preservation. I would guess that 98% of those who have come to their “summer homes” are not here sunning themselves like everything is normal. Please give off islanders a tad more credit.

        • I’ve read several posts from seasonal residents ranting explicitly about the right to “enjoy” their summer properties, even during a crisis. Talking about their taxes and other things that sound shallow under such circumstances. They didn’t make it about survival. Many in New York are suffering greatly. And yet some are more concerned with threatening to punish Islanders over perceived hurt feelings. Seriously? That’s the focus? We are all supposed to work together to save lives and lessen the burden on the heroes who are in harm’s way. That includes health care workers and those making sure we have food to eat. Any increase in population makes things harder on them, and that is unacceptable. It’s that simple. If you see a doctor or nurse holding a sign that reads “I go to work for you, you stay home for us”, the first thought shouldn’t be to defy it by taking a road trip.

          I didn’t miss the point. That stance just isn’t based on facts. MV is not a sanctuary. Coming here can create a very dangerous situation for all, imcluding seasonal residents, and quickly. Read the article from yesterday titled CEO: Nine serious cases will overwhelm hospital. The hospital gets the final say on this. They alone are overseeing staff and resources and crunching the numbers. Their press release was clear as day. No one has the right to put forth a false narrative claiming MV is a safe place to flock to now that everyone knows the reality. There aren’t even enough resources here to care for the local population in the event that this gets worse. And it’s expected to get worse everywhere. We have MANY elderly residents who could require serious help. Think of them. The only hatred and ugliness I’ve seen recently was the kind that made older people sound expendable. They most certainly are not, and we have to take steps to ensure their safety.

          I can’t believe this still needs explaining for the 100th time. Seems like ignoring the message is almost willful.

          • You certainly don’t need to keep explaining it! The point has been well made! While it may be in VERY bad form to come to the island at this time for the enjoyment of it, they have the right whatever their reason.
            I completely understand your concerns. If there are too many people coming to the island, it definitely will be a problem for the hospital. I would ask you to put yourself in their shoes however. You live in an area where the pandemic is incredibly hot…say NYC.
            Truthfully, if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you go to your second home to give you and your family the best chance at staying healthy? If you’re being honest, I bet you would do the same. And why not, you own it!

            As far as hurt feelings, islanders never, ever make off islanders feel welcome. Again, I can understand the frustration with people who come here and don’t respect the island or the locals. In the end, aren’t we all on the island for the same reasons?

          • Darren, there has always been a lot of silliness about washashores, natives, and summer people, even when it has no relevance. I agree, that can be very unwelcoming. Normally, it’s my belief that everyone should be made to feel at home and that such labels are unnecessary. Unfortunately, we now have a legit reason to stay in our own lanes for a bit. Not out of animosity. Strictly for safety. It’s not only MV. Many rural vacation spots are going through similar.

            I am high risk. To be honest, I would be more at ease elsewhere, but I didn’t feel right about it. Instead, I’ve been in strict isolation for a very long time. What has happened in New York is heartbreaking. I understand your point and the fear. The initial reaction when surrounded by chaos can be to get away to what seems like a calmer, safer place. I was trying to say that, in this instance, looks can be dangerously deceiving. MV has the potential to run into serious issues, some unique to its Island setting. We have to prepare for the worst. Generally, I would never suggest people stay away from their own properties. These are exceptional circumstances where I can’t see going against our hospital’s warnings. If some are going to do it anyway, PLEASE bring ample food and quarantine right off the boat. Not everyone is doing so. We all have to learn from what Italy has been telling us and just stay home whenever remotely possible. I wish nothing but health and safety for everyone. Take care.

    • Are you suggesting our island is not the bastion of liberal loving open arms (and borders) we thought it to be?

    • No, MVH is designated as Critical Care, Rural hospital. None is given preference at the entrance to the tent, or, so, I am told, according to where one pays taxes or if one has donated money to MVH. Of course, one can look back to those who pronouned COVID-19 contained. Look forward, though. Contain now. Fewer vectors can geratly reduce the possibility of infection.

  9. We quarantined 14 days in ma off island. Brought two weeks of groceries. Keep to ourselves in our summer home. Ordered take out a few times with full precautions to support businesses we care about. Not sure how that is such a problem.

  10. If you came before the warnings were put out by the governor or if you came and self quarantined as directed then you have nothing to apologize for. No one came there to put anyone in harm’s way-they came because of their family’s physical and mental health’s best interest. The fact that islanders were traveling all over the world in February and then bringing college kids back should be a much bigger concern than well to do families hiding out in their large secluded homes. Grow up.

  11. Are we all for real….. really everyday still “Islanders” make the way back and forth to the mainland…. next time they come back make sure ur out there at the steamship at tell them to go away…… also tell all those private planes to go away….. interesting all the islanders are bitching about the stream ship but have yet to hear much about the many private planes landing at the airport…… we all need to get a major grip….. when this is over many people will remember the hate and nasty things that have been said…… I’ll feel bad for the islanders when they ask for a handout from the state and the rest of us balk at them……. be careful what you preach…. pay back can be a real bitch.

    • You can either complain about nastiness or you can call people inbred, but you can’t do both and expect to be taken seriously.

      99% of the messages I’ve seen encouraging everyone to stay home have not been nasty. Just factual, practical, and urgent, which fits the situation. It’s for your own safety, too. Locals, seasonal residents, and medical staff are all safer if we stay in our primary homes for now. All of us. That’s not hateful.

      • ALL of us. Even islanders. Which no one is actually doing. Take a drive. Many are not staying in. If you go out, what are 99% of the plates you see? MA. No matter where you are from, stay if you are on the island or off. We all need to stay home!

  12. Ahhh the true Vineyard has finally revealed itself. The racism and pure hatred of anyone not “island born” has surfaced to the top. How sad this has become. If you own here then you can come, this is America isn’t it? This is the essence of who we are supposed to be. How quickly that goes away, anyone from NY stay away… 9 million people and a portion of the population is sick so all of you get out, stay away, your all sick and evil. A NY license plate is the new yellow star….How sad. These horrible people dump millions into this economy, when the time comes you will gladly take their money. Sensible precautions can be made instead of this craziness. Or is it just the true Vineyard?

    • Are New Yorkers and Vineyarders races? Where’s the racism?

      I think you missed the message. No one is supposed to be traveling — that does not single anyone out. We’re all supposed to stay home unless we’re essential workers. Meaning Island residents shouldn’t all leave and go wait this out elsewhere, and those from off-Island, regardless of their home states, shouldn’t come here. Do you think our hospital is racist and hateful for saying the exact same?

      This is ONLY about math and the way a virus spreads. Not ill will. Many Americans own more than one property. Even those that don’t usually have relatives in other towns or states. Imagine if they all decided to move around at this time? That’s more risk of transmission, and it messes with the resources allocated to any particular area by census. Stay home! It’s a simple enough mantra that we shouldn’t exempt ourselves from. Doing so will lead to more death. To look out for everyone, not just ourselves, we have to stick to some universal rules right now. I cannot see how that can be viewed as anything other than responsible.

    • There’s only one hospital here and the statement should of never been made.That the Vineyard is a safe haven from the virus, it’s more like a Petri dish and an influx of people will make it worse. I am a born native and I don’t have any animosity towards transplants/Washshores or even tourist. There’s rules for stating you’re from here and I’ll leave it there.
      The virus is growing at an alarming rate and putting a cap on travel to and from the island.Is a great to way to help contain the virus that’s here now, or else it’ll be pure chaos. If guidelines aren’t respected soon, it’s going to get a lot worse and something needs to be done to enforce that. I think that egos need to be kept in check and reality needs to come to play.

      • “I am a born native and I don’t have any animosity towards transplants/ washashores or even tourist”
        Your comment on the “View from the trenches” article paints a very different picture then this comment

        • I can see how you’d see that, but my main point was to just tell the truth and state where you were actually BORN. If you don’t, is when I and other Natives begin to have animosity towards tourists/transplants and Washashores. That was a Native discussion and this section is about the virus and people are people and I don’t want anyone to get this virus.
          If people don’t begin to respect the virus guidelines and continue to go about their day. The virus will continue to spread and and an intermittent ban on ferry use, a need to use only. Would help maintain and regulate the virus and hopefully help rid the island of it..

  13. Unfortunately we cant force people to self quarantine for two weeks. Those that are complying should be acknowledged and applauded.

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