Small Island crews return to work

Workers must adhere to stringent health and sanitation guidelines.

Max Davies (left) and Jacob Cardoza are following proper health and safety protocols while working at their job site. — Lucas Thors

Updated 6:30 pm

Island contractors are slowly being cleared by building inspectors to return to their job sites in crews of one and two as long as they adhere to extensive health protocols.

At the end of March, towns began to consider the possible health and safety issues involved with large crews of construction workers, landscapers, and other contracted laborers in close quarters.

A construction ban was issued by all Island towns that essentially stopped any regular business associated with new or existing construction sites and forced many local companies into uncertain territory. 

On April 16 and 17, Island towns approved having crews go back to work and set protocols for that to happen. Last week, the Martha’s Vineyard Builders Association held a town hall meeting to go over protocols, which included requiring inspections of job sites.

Reached on his way out to a site visit, West Tisbury building inspector Joe Tierney said he will have conducted over 20 site inspections on Monday alone.

“I did 10 this morning and I am going to do 11 this afternoon,” Tierney said. Tierney said he is going to each site in West Tisbury and running down a checklist to make sure everyone is adhering to all the necessary safety criteria. 

“Some are passing, and some are needing a little bit of help,” he said.

West Tisbury health agent Omar Johnson said he will conduct a total of five site visits on Monday, and had already failed one site for lack of proper hand washing equipment. 

Johnson said so far, site supervisors have been cooperative and amenable to all the health guidelines, and although workers recognize the reasoning behind the restrictions, they all say the same thing — “we need to work to feed our families.”

When asked whether workers appear to be concerned about getting sick while on job sites, Johnson said, “People seem to be very concerned about their work, that is definitely what they are focusing on. From what I can see, they are not as focused on the virus.”

As the summer season approaches, Doug Best, owner of D. Best Construction, says he and his crew are trying to get back to work in a way that is quick, efficient, and safe. 

“We are following all the rules, and are going to do things the right way,” Best said.

Best has been involved with a working group of business owners collaborating with building inspectors and health agents.

The group has been working to prepare all contractors for the return to work, and Best said his company has been preparing to hit the ground running over the past month.

“I have been very much in the know about what needs to be done. We haven’t been allowed to go out into the field at all,” Best said. “About a month ago, when the virus hit, we started ordering all our personal protective equipment (PPE) and doing whatever we could to get plenty of masks in the hands of all our employees.”

He also said D. Best has been gathering disinfectant sprays, solvents, bleaches, and posters to put up at all job sites that list the proper health guidelines, of which there are many.

“There are about five different sheets in both English and Portuguese with everything from the hospital’s instructions on how to properly put on and take off a mask, to how to wash your hands the right way,” Best said. 

All sites will be fitted with porta potties with handwashing stations and work teams need to have plenty of disinfectant, wipes, and bleach. Metal trash cans are even being placed at sites instead of plastic ones to dispose of alcohol based wipes and other flammable or corrosive cleaners. 

“We will be sending in the checklist of all our protective equipment and sanitary materials this morning to each of the inspectors. We usually have anywhere from 20 to 24 sites going at any given time, but right now we are waiting for the go ahead,” Best said. “This is just adding one more element of juggling to our daily challenge. We recognize we are going to have to maximize productivity.”

But Best said he and his workers aren’t just following the proper protocols to adhere to the law, they want to protect themselves and the Island community as a whole.

“My workers have lots of mixed emotions, they are rather tentative. The last thing they want to do is put their coworkers, friends, and family at risk,” Best said.

He said his workers are dedicated to fully understanding the processes of signing in and out whenever they come and go on a site, and disinfecting regularly.

“We have to clean the site on the way in, and clean the site on the way out. Maybe the last person didn’t do it and the next person might not do it, so it’s just making sure everyone is doing what they can to be safe,” Best said.

Best thanked Island health agents for working together to bring about a common methodology amongst all the towns, and said he greatly appreciates all that the Martha’s Vineyard Builders Association has done.

“Everyone is really stepping up to create a greater awareness, and establish more adherence to keep this virus to a minimum on the Island,” Best said.

As far as the future of construction work and life in general is concerned, Best said “this virus has changed things forever. Until there is a vaccine and some comprehensive planning, we are going to be dealing with these requirements for some time to come,” Best said.

And construction workers aren’t the only ones who are scrambling to make up for lost time — landscapers are looking to get back to work as well.

Bill Davies of Davies Landscape and Tree Services said his crew is following all the proper protocols, although it is frustrating when the vehicle occupancy restrictions (one person per truck) and other regulations make it difficult for his business to run at maximum efficiency. 

“It’s a huge challenge for us to have one person per vehicle. We have 12 workers and eight trucks, so what are we going to do?” Davies said.

Davies said he hopes things change in the phase two rollout of health and safety regulations for workers.

“Maybe you could have people wearing respirators in the trucks. It’s frustrating because my crew starts their day together at the shop anyway. We send out two- or three-men mow crews. What am I going to do, have one guy drive the truck and another follow behind him?” Davies asked.

With such a close-knit group of employees that are used to doing lots of hands-on work with each other, Davies said it has been a huge adjustment.

“We are all practicing our six-foot distancing, and I am all for doing what we need to do to keep my employees and my customers safe and comfortable,” Davies said

For the most part, Davies said his clients have been understanding and compassionate about the plight that landscapers face, and the limitations they must work under.

“We maintain about 50 or 60 clients during the season, and we have had most of them for a very long time. So most people are very understanding of what we are dealing with here,” Davies said.

Despite advisories from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and town health officials, and rather vehement opposition from some Islanders, Davies said his clients are still planning on showing up to their summer homes, if they aren’t here already.

“I anticipate people are still going to come. A lot of them are already moved in,” Davies said. “I would say at least 30 percent of my clients are here already, and It doesn’t seem like the virus is slowing people down.”

In the future, Davies said he hopes things can return to some degree of normalcy, although he said he will comply with any advisories or guidance provided by the towns and the federal and state government.

“I’m 55 years old, I don’t want to get sick, I don’t want to get anybody sick. I am praying that things return to normal eventually and we find a vaccine,” Davies said. “Until then, we will be doing what we have to to keep everyone safe.”

Landscope Landscaping owner Fred Fournier said for the reentry phase, his crew will focus on being vigilant, healthy, and safe. Employees must answer a lengthy questionnaire to determine if they could have possibly been exposed to the virus. For the foreseeable future, Fournier said he is going to be taking workers temperatures as they come to work.

“You need to come to us healthy. If you do that, we will keep you healthy,” Fournier said. “We have spent thousands of dollars on protective equipment to make sure everyone is in good shape.”

Fournier said Landscope has about 20 trucks and work vehicles that have all been cleaned and sanitized, along with dozens of pieces of equipment such as mowers, trimmers, and blowers.

And according to Fournier, his employees are eager to start working again and are taking all the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families. 

“My employees have kids, they have wives. They are very cognizant of the fact that they need to be incredibly careful,” Fournier said.

Updated to include comments from Fournier. -ed


  1. Telling workers they can’t ride together is against our first amendment rights of assembly as well as State and Federal laws regulating travel over roadways. There are so many civil liberties being broken at the whims of our civic leaders

    • It’s pretty simple, if you want to work follow the guidelines. It is for the ENTIRE COMMUNITIES HEALTH & SAFTY. You may not have parents or grandparents on the island but most do. It is not about you, it is about the community as a whole, the most vulnerable and the first responders who are putting their lives and their families on the line for us All. The move to open back up is considered premature by almost every advisor in the field of infectious disease. If we are not careful we will soon see the community outbreak we have been spared from to date, the direct result of the moratorium. If we ALL don’t take this serious we will get shut down all over again and all the lost time and money will be for nothing. Not to mention the potential lives it could cost. THINK…

      • How do know your logic is based on science? In any event rules have to be universal, you can’t tell workers they can’t ride together as they watch non workers riding together? So the speed limit for me is 45 but for you it’s 35?

        • Not sure what you have been doing while not working, but apparently not reading… > I’m sure almost everyone driving together lives together. You should be more worried about day workers from the main land and second home owners. Massachusetts has not reached it peak yet and has the third most confirmed cases in the country. >

        • public trust– i am curious as to why you think the rules are different for different people ? The speed limit is either 35 or 45 for everyone. ( rule of law, you know that antiquated sysyem going all the way back to 2016 ? If I am in my car with with the person I woke up with this morning, that is a bit different than workers riding together to work. I am not entitled to exceed the speed limit regardless of my circumstance, unless of course there is a medical emergency, and then i could contest that in court. Some people don’t care about the guidelines for social distancing, and wave flags around and think it is their “god” given right to endanger the lives of old people .
          I disagree.

          • It is our God given right you say that like you don’t use you phone and drive which endangers more people. Very self righteous. I am one of those flag waivers.
            Its not your right to trample on mine.

          • You misunderstood me. I used the analogy of speed limits to show traffic rules apply equally to everyone. But telling workers they can’t ride together is not the same rule applied to anyone but workers. Look at a bus? Most cars have Non household friends in them.

      • Thank you smallislandcontractor. Public trust – there are limits to the number of passengers in every vehicle already – it’s determined by the number of seat belts, per the US DOT.

    • You would be very hard pressed to find a court anywhere that would equate riding in a truck with free assembly.

    • Please stop with this nonsense. Please stop being a tool for big business. They care about profits, not you. They certainly don’t care about your “rights”

  2. “I anticipate people are still going to come. A lot of them are already moved in,”

    Agreed, Bill. Stay safe!

  3. I agree that a lot of our liberties are being trampled on simply because this virus is new and medical community as a whole, doesn’t have a clue how to protect citizens from getting it (besides stay home). What are we going to do if we get a second wave of infections?? Stay home again?? I think not, most Americans are not wealthy people and we can’t afford to stay home. We need to protect our vulnerable citizens and practice safety but we must get back to our life!

  4. I’m fairly certain the only second wave of this virus is that people will actually go back to work and get a paycheck.
    I hope those riding three and even four people to a dump truck are being watched. I have seen it during the shutdown, I have seen it today.
    What can you do, some people just don’t either understand or it or it is a cultural thing. Either way it is only up to them to deal with it.
    Let’s get back to work and prove the naysayers wrong about this.

    • View from here– Since you and Andrew seem to have a lot in common, would you care to offer a bet about that ‘second wave” concerning the number of cases or deaths from corona on this island if we open up too soon? I know you wouldn’t offer such a bet, as you know the rate of infection will spike, and deaths will likely result. Perhaps, if you propose a bet and lose, you will just slither away, as Andrew did.
      And that would be ok. But i think you are a much more decent person than “Andrew,” and would likely pay up, and continue to be part of our community with your comments. While i disagree with you often, I respect your willingness to express your opinion.
      All things must pass
      Peace love and pasta to all of us to see us through.

    • i am sure that people not understanding the issues is not a “cultural thing”. this is a global thing, not only a martha’s vineyard thing – being understood by people around the world.

  5. Baker says the curve has flattened but Boston will not reopen May 4. We have a long way to go.

    Be careful people. If so, soon enough we will be slowly stumbling, skipping, then running through the poppy fields, on the way to Emerald City:

    You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re our of the night,
    Step into the sun, step into the light.

    Keep straight ahead for the most glorious place on the face of the earth or the

    Hold onto your breath, hold onto your heart, hold onto your hope,
    March up to that gate and bid it open.

    • That article was published today and was about an ER doctors “opinion” from St. Barnabas Hospital in The Bronx, not Boston. > Massachusetts is still peaking with the third most confirmed cases of covid-19 in the country. >

      “The math is unfortunately pretty simple. It’s not a matter of whether infections will increase but by how much,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a leading epidemiologist at Columbia University.

      Closing America was hard. But it came with one simple instruction: Everyone stay at home. There are no easy answers for the phase that comes next, especially with a continued lack of testing, contact tracing and detailed guidance from federal health agencies, disease experts said. Instead, every state will conduct its own improvised experiment with thousands of lives in the balance.” – The Washington Post. >

      • “That article was published today and was about an ER doctors “opinion” from St. Barnabas Hospital in The Bronx, not Boston.”

        It was, and referenced the hottest spot for the coronavirus in the world. I cannot help you if you did not see the correlation. And using your own “logic”, it is incorrect to compare Boston and Martha’s Vineyard.

        I agree with you, I also feel we are opening up too soon. However, I’m going with it. In as safe a manner as I can. I am at high risk.
        I am listening to our officials. Stay safe!


        • “Closing America was hard. But it came with one simple instruction: Everyone stay at home.”

          It never was fully closed; that’s part of the problem.


        • You’re right that it’s incorrect to compare the Bronx and Boston or Boston to MV. Boston’s peak was forecasted to come about two weeks after NY. MV’s peak is predicted to be later than Boston.

  6. You don’t trust us to practice safety,yet you trust people to show up here and quarantine for 14 days on arrival? You trust people who have been tested positive
    to go home.e and stay there until they are feeling better. You have a very low opinion
    Of the blue collar worker. You ,like Hillary must consider US deplorable. Give me a break while I get my hip boots on.

  7. Let us all remember that this construction ban is an island created by the local boards of health to keep off-island employees from coming here. So all those small boat trips canceled for a garage door replacement or window treatments not installed, and other independent workers are on the BOH and the selectmen when you are forced to pay higher taxes to cover the SSA losses. Now, will the BOH require all t-shirt shops to have wash sinks for all multi-person locations?

  8. So let me get this right. A family of 6 can travel from anywhere to MV and drive around with no restrictions. But, if you are working you can only have 1 per truck.
    How can our local government make these restrictions? Sounds like a direct violation of our constitutional rights. Time for us to step up and demand this restriction to be lifted. This is not a communist state !!!
    Limit the traffic to the island not the people who are here!!!

  9. Yes, these guidelines are restrictive and make much of the labor difficult if not impossible. 2 person crews can accomplish very little. Even with simple jobs like tree work, shingling, framing it often takes at minimum 3-4 people to run a safe efficient operation. Not being able to share work vehicles is what I would call a great big PITA. As many of us look forward to “phase two,” at least we can be thankful that we’re moving in a hopeful direction. Some of the rules will have to ease up eventually if work is to get done. Our officials have done their best to come up with compromises that satisfy as many as possible. Everyone is left a little bit disappointed, but we are all trying… Onward!

  10. Come on people.
    First we complain we can’t work and now it’s we can’t work efficiently.
    This is a start and yes there are rules we need to follow that will be in convenient but at least it’s a start and your not still sitting on your couch wondering how your going to feed your kids, make your car payment, pay rent and on and on. There are still may that have this problem so Just be happy you can do something to offset your losses. I know I am.
    It’s simple follow the rules and move forward step by step. Stay safe and healthy

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