Down Island towns, West Tisbury, Chilmark approve back-to-work guidelines

West Tisbury and Chilmark are looking at dates for allowing small work crews to get going again. — Lexi Pline

Updated April 17 

The Oak Bluffs board of health has approved a provision that would allow one and two-person work crews to go back to work starting Monday, April 27, joining Edgartown, Tisbury, West Tisbury, and Chilmark.

Despite the board of health unanimously voting in favor of the order, board of health member James Butterick warned that the state is surging in cases and could be as far as two weeks away from its peak.

“The order itself that allows us to start on April 27 is a concern to me and I don’t know why we don’t just wait until May 4,” Butterick said. “We’re not at the peak.”

Selectmen had differing opinions on when workers should be able to phase back into work.

Selectmen Jason Balboni said he didn’t know if he could keep supporting a process where the board is extending workers getting back to work every two weeks.

“I do believe at this point we could be sending landscapers out to work in one- and two-man crews, carpenters out in one- and two-man crews, and I think we could be doing it safely and responsibly,” Balboni said.

Selectman Michael Santoro agreed.

“We’re going to get to the point where we’re not going to be able to enforce this and it’s going to get out of control,” Santoro said.

Selectman Gail Barmakian said she would defer to the board of health.

Selectman Brian Packish said the town expects the Governor to either extend or create a new set of guidelines after May 4.

“This whole order was created to begin with to stop people from coming on the boat, not to stop people from going to work,” Packish said.

Selectmen did not vote on the order.

The Tisbury board of selectmen and board of health also approved an extension of the overall moratorium until May 4 to match Gov. Charlie Baker’s order having to do with nonessential businesses. Board members noted that Baker is likely to extend that date.

Tisbury’s votes came Friday morning. 

Edgartown selectmen and the Edgartown board of health unanimously voted to approve the provision in a quick teleconference meeting Friday.

On Thursday, West Tisbury board of health was the first town to approve the April 27 date. That date was moved ahead after a working group and town administrators met with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici.

Tisbury board of health agent Maura Valley said the new date is in keeping with Schepici’s request to delay reopening job sites. Valley said changes could be made if the towns find that construction workers aren’t following the guidelines or if there is a spike in cases on the Island.

“I said before that I believe this document addresses a lot of the concerns that the community had and I believe that moving forward to the 27th is a good move and addresses the hospital’s concerns,” Valley said. “This gives us an opportunity to get a small group of people back to work with some health controls in place so we can see how this goes and get some people safely back to work.”

Board of health agent Omar Johnson said it is important to push the rollout of these regulations to April 27 due to the fact that the greater Boston area is peaking around April 20. 

“We need to see how the trajectory of the disease is panning out,” Johnson said. 

Earlier this week, some towns appeared poised to allow the smaller crews to go back to work, but Schepici said it would be a “dire mistake” to allow workers to go back in the midst of a potential surge in cases. Though the Island has had relatively few confirmed cases, hospital officials are preparing for an increase and on Friday, just before the Tisbury votes, two more cases were confirmed at the hospital for the first time in more than a week.

Johnson said the date would function as more of a structural goal rather than a hard and fast deadline, and suggested that boards of health keep an eye on the state and Island numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases as the date approaches.

“If we follow proper safety precautions when the time comes, this is doable,” Johnson said. 

The board of health agreed to schedule a meeting for the Friday before April 27 to discuss any recent developments in state and local figures.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell agreed with Johnson that the trajectory of the disease will dictate when the work begins again.

“Hopefully that trajectory allows this to happen then, but it is completely dependent on what the facts are at that particular time,” Mitchell said.

Chair of the West Tisbury board of health, Tim Barnett, was the lone voice to vote against getting back to work on April 27. He noted the inherent difficulty with enforcing any regulations imposed on workers.

“I don’t think it’s practical, I don’t think it’s enforceable. I think going back to work for money and spreading this illness is a very difficult question, and I am not for it. I would like to delay this,” Barnett said.

The West Tisbury board of selectmen voted unanimously to support the board of health in implementing the regulations.

Also on Thursday, Chilmark selectmen reconvened a joint meeting with the Chilmark board of health and in back to back unanimous votes, launched phase one with its supplement:


  • Moratorium remains in effect until April 27 at 8 am
  • One to two worker construction site work permitted April 27 8 am to May 4 5 pm
  • Between April 27 and May 4 workers must “Martha’s Vineyard Construction Guidelines – Rules for Getting Back to Work Phase 1”
  • The order may have to amended, supplemented or extended on or before May 4

Deliberation was light ahead of the votes. Board of health member Jan Burhman described the order as “very thought out” and “something I fully support”. Selectman Jim Malkin characterizes it as “a good compromise.”

Ross Seavey, Tisbury’s building commissioner, said every town website will have the guidelines posted, as well as FAQs. The information will be published in Portuguese as well.


Updated to include Tisbury, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs. — Ed.


  1. Bravo!!! It’s time to get things moving forward. It will be a slow & controlled roll out. If contractors can deal with OSHA regulations, I have confidence they can deal with 1-2 workers at a time on a site. We haven’t had any recent civics in over 10 days. Time to start looking forward people, before it’s to late. I commend these 2 towns for being pro active while still being cautious

    • No recent covid infections in a week is not a reason to relax now. We should wait until May 15, the way NY and likely MA are doing. Second wave infections, that happen when social distancing is relaxed too soon, are lethal, sometimes worse than first wave. Listen to the science. Another month is what science says is best. Read Dr Currier’s plea in the article, “Doctor on the frontlines”.

      • Also, it’s hard to have confidence in constrution people complying with all the guidelines when it is so hard to get people to follow arrows in supermarket aisles. It is especially difficult to trust some tradespeople when they have suggested in these pages civil disobedience and hanging out in liquor stores, markets and pharmacies if they cannot go back to work. These bullying threats are not compliant with with any of the shutdown guidelines, so there is no reason why anyone should trust some of these workers to do the right thing– and it only takes one infected person to do the wrong thing.

      • Dr. Currier’s excellent letter convinced me to take the same position as you, Jackie. He is (one of) the local experts. It appears we are on the losing side of the discussion, however; and we will have to wait and see. Cupidity is seldom circumspect (enough).

        • Very glad to hear that, Hanley. Can you tell others how you came to change your mind, even though it’s a personal financial loss? For many, I don’t think it’s solely about greed, though. How people will provide for themselves and their families is a legitimate fear. But for sure, unless we do this right, there won’t be any chance to recoup anything. No do-overs, as Dr. Currier says. We all will be on the losing side if we get this wrong and go back to work and open things up too soon. It is sad to see protest groups against their state’s stay-at-home orders, without masks and any regard to social distancing. It’s one thing to expose or endanger oneself, but many of these people have high risk parents, immune suppressed children, and innocent others they come in contact with. How do you feel about the President encouraging these protests? Someone on these pages, Oldfarmerguy, was suggesting this kind of civil disobedience. What would you say to him?

          • Hanley, no first amendment rights are absolute. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater and you can’t gather if there is a clear and present danger.

          • Also, Hanley, there is now evidence that these anti-quarantine protests are being pushed on Facebook by a few well organized pro-gun right wing activist groups.

    • Enough, have you ever actually been on a construction site on island? There is no such thing as OSHA regulations out here.

    • enough– perhaps *”covid cases” ?
      When I get wrapped up in the content of what I am saying, I often read it again after I send it, and ask myself “how did the proof reader miss that ?”
      No worries, I think we all knew what you meant. Good post. 🙂

  2. This is the only county in the state where landscaping and construction is not permitted!! How can boat loads of people coming over here each day as well as plenty of day to day travel back and forth not be our focus to control the virus??? Yesterday, I counted 75 workers coming to VH walking off the boat. Not a single one was from UPS. On the 830PM boat arriving to VH there was at least 10 out of state vehicles coming over to MV. Yet, working 1-2 person crews is not being allowed for now another week??
    My issue is that these trades are permitted to work everywhere else but MV by our local government. How is working going to raise the cases recorded here but yet our local government and board of health are doing nothing but asking people who arrive here to stay home for 14 days?
    The population here is going to at least double in the next 2 months, shouldn’t we focus efforts on what to do when that happens and not restrict industry that is classified as essential by the state gov.??

    • Swimmer, I admit I am scared to respond to the obvious “only county” part of your remarks. Dukes County is also the only county in Massachusetts which no one…oy…never mind.

  3. Flattening the curve=dragging the situation out over longer period of time=late peak arrival here= huge blunder and more disease spreading= lots of sick people here. Opening now is like climbing on board a Boeing 737 Max and saying let’s go for a ride.

  4. Get to work for islanders at least. End this nonsense. I’m more worried about poison ivy or a tick bite.

  5. In case nobody has noticed, the Island is one of the hardest hit states in the whole country. Easing restrictions now, before the peak has been reached and long before there is any sign of a slowdown, shows a disregard for the lives of your fellow islanders. Who will be held responsible if this goes horribly wrong?

    • Zephyr — “The island” is not a “state”. Also, we have 14 confirmed cases here. if there are 25,000 people currently on the island, that would be a rate of about 560 cases per million residents (WHO accounting standard) Even if you think there are 50,000 people here, that translates to 1,120 cases per million.
      The U.S. average is 2304 cases per million
      New York — 12,601/ million
      New Jersey 9,604 /million
      Massachusetts 5,575 / million
      While you sentiments are honorable, making up facts is not helpful.
      Keep it honest , please– real facts matter. We see how bad things can get if you rely on “alternative facts”

      • dondondon correction on my own math..
        25,000 on island = 560 cases/ million
        So If there were 12,500 people on island the rate would be 1,120
        50,000 people here would be a rate 280 per million.
        A mistake in doubling up —wrong direction . Sorry.
        Realized it after hitting send–

        • Any way you slice it, Don, the island is doing better than just about anywhere else in the USA.

  6. By continuing to push the “return to work” date back you’re only creating the opportunity for more chaos…PS if you or your kid gets Lyme this season ask yourself if it was worth not letting landscapers get back to work. Your intention of mitigating one potential problem will undoubtably create a host of other problems.

  7. That’s right Adam…let’s trust the CDC to ensure our safety. We should also trust ‘politicians’ to know what’s best for our safety. Lowest bidder and no actual talent. If we follow their ‘ideas’ and ‘models’ without doubling or tripling times we will be in for this disaster to the power of 10.

  8. Let me say one thing about the no landscaping rule. The quiet has been very nice.
    Perhaps, after this passes, we can have a discussion about at least one day a week without having to hear those *^%&$$# leaf blowers all day. Someone should invent a tool that can gather leaves without a motor– I don’t know, perhaps a 6 ft long wooden pole with some metal tongs spread out at the bottom of it. One could use their upper arms to pull this tool toward themselves and I think if you angled the metal prongs properly, it would be able to grab leaves and other small items. You wouldn’t need a degree in mechanical engineering to work it, and almost anyone could consolidate them into a pile, and then put them into a barrel or something. The operator would even get a little exercise, and wouldn’t have to breath the exhaust fumes.
    Does anyone know how I could set up a “go fund me” site for research on such a concept, and perhaps even get a patent ? I would donate all profits to charity.

  9. If you have the luxury of not worrying about feeding your family good for you. If you are not in construction, keep your comments to yourself. Stay home. If all you have to do is count the people coming over on the boat in the morning, you have a sad life. How do you know where those people are going? I seriously dought there were that many people on the boat. The SSA is on the verge of “folding up” in their own words. Do you think they would be saying this if there were still that many commuters coming over?
    Open up construction with restrictions before people are going to go to work anyway. We are through waiting for two weeks more, or two weeks after that.
    I know many, many people that are still on the job with smaller crews. All the hand- wringing and suggestions are not going to stop them all. The world still has to keep spinning

    • View, fair enough. Quid pro quo, though. If you have the luxury of not worrying about whether patients live or die based on the inescapable pressures of spur of the monment decisions, good for you. If you are not in healthcare , though, keep your comments to yourself. (I don’t relly beleive this. In this Country everyone is entitled to voice an opinion, even it’s really, really bad.)

Comments are closed.

Previous articleVineyard winter athletes get all-scholastic honors
Next articleDoctor on the frontlines: ‘We need to follow the science’