One case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Aquinnah, and that person is currently in quarantine.
Jim Glavin, Aquinnah board of health chair, said in a Wednesday meeting that the confirmed case is not severe, and involves someone who came from New York to shelter on the Vineyard.
Selectmen were concerned about whether contact tracing is being performed on the Vineyard, and selectmen chair Juli Vanderhoop said it is essential to know who was exposed to this person, and for how long.
“We need some serious contact tracing in town and on the Vineyard. Who has been in contact with this person, who is doing that work?” Vanderhoop asked.
Glavin said the board of health is not able to do contact tracing, as they are not statutorily obligated to and do not have the resources to conduct the in-depth investigations that would be necessary.
“You need to sit down with these people and do an interview about who they have been in contact with, where they came from. And then you need to talk to anyone that they came in contact with,” Glavin said.
Glavin said he is confident that the person who is infected is adhering to self-quarantine and social distancing protocols. “I don’t think we have to worry about this particular case,” he said.
How can the town meet?
Aquinnah, like other towns on-Island, is trying to figure out where and how to have its annual town meeting while also adhering to social distancing guidelines and keeping the community safe.
Town administrator Jeff Madison said an idea is being circulated about possibly using a large tent to hold the town meeting. Madison said the tent could be installed at the Aquinnah circle or another large outdoor venue, and a speaker system could be used to discuss the warrant.
“We are going to have to maintain our physical distance, and that is going to be very difficult to do,” Madison said. “I think we may have a significantly larger number of people because of the date, which is scheduled for June 22.”
He said having the meeting outside might make people feel more comfortable with attending.
Vanderhoop put out the possibility of asking the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head to use the community center, because it is a large enough space that social distancing might be able to be maintained.
She also suggested looking at the West Tisbury School gym as a meeting venue. “I would hope that people would wear proper protective equipment and would follow social distancing,” Vanderhoop said. “This is a really important meeting.”
Tough financial times
Town officials also discussed short-term borrowing to pay for obligatory expenses like internal payroll for town workers. Currently, town treasurer Sibel Suman said Aquinnah is looking at filing a revenue anticipation note, or a short-term municipal loan that the town would repay within a period of one year.
“We are going to experience low funds, people are struggling to pay their taxes and there will be a large amount of income lost from outside revenue,” Suman said. “We don’t need a town meeting vote for a revenue anticipation note, it would cover very specific financial obligations until additional revenue comes in.”
Suman said the town is currently looking at a net loss of over $170,000 in revenue, due to the anticipated lack of lighthouse tours, Philbin Beach passes, and parking money.
“July and August are our heaviest months for revenue, and who knows what things are going to be like around that time,” Suman said. “Some [lighthouse] tour guides have already filed for unemployment, which is entirely their right.”
Suman also said it would be unwise to have people congregate in such close proximity inside a lighthouse.
Suman characterized the loan as a precautionary measure, as opposed to an emergency borrowing.
She said the town could do a separate borrowing that could go to necessary town repairs, such as the improvements at the Aquinnah Cliffs, and the repair and maintenance of town-owned buildings.
“That would be a completely separate loan that would have to go to town meeting floor for approval,” Suman said.
Vanderhoop said the town is still looking at a costly bill for fixing the restrooms at the Cliffs, and doing maintenance on a number of buildings that desperately need rehabilitation.