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.