Updated April 30
An open letter asking seasonal residents to self quarantine and take other precautions when coming to the Island has been taken down from the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce website following backlash from Oak Bluffs town leaders.
The letter contained guidelines for seasonal residents throughout the summer such as self-quarantining for 14 days, bringing enough supplies for that quarantine, and limiting trips to the grocery store.
During an Oak Bluffs selectmen meeting Tuesday, town leaders expressed their frustration with the letter and that they were not consulted about it before it was published.
Selectman Brian Packish said he spoke with two other Island towns who had not seen the letter until it was posted.
“It’s mind-boggling that a letter can be produced to represent our community with a blanket email from our Senator [Julian] Cyr representing that he somehow worked together with us yet three towns on Martha’s Vineyard, that I know of, hadn’t even heard of the letter until they had already published it,” Packish said.
Town administrator Robert Whritenour said a 14-day quarantine on seasonal residents coming to the Island throughout the summer could have unforeseen consequences.
“It does raise some questions with the stay-at-home order expiring on May 18 what type of impact does the 14-day quarantine throughout the entire summer have on visiting, have on economic issues,” Whritenour said.
“I’m just disappointed, as I think other people are, that we weren’t involved in that and that was just a decision that was sent out. I think that was irresponsible,” Oak Bluffs selectman Jason Balboni said.
Nancy Gardella, the Chamber’s executive director, acknowledged the mistake Tuesday afternoon.
“We owe you an apology. When we were originally approached by our state legislators to help create a regional response with our hospitals and regional chambers, it felt like the right and responsible thing to do,” Gardella wrote. “As an organization that has prided itself as advocates for our members and our local economy, the truth is we fell short today. In thinking we could support our community in this public health crisis, we forgot that our focus is not public health. Our focus is you. It’s business. It’s our Island’s prosperity.”
The Chamber removed the letter and asked the other Island newspaper, which had posted it, to remove it as well.
“As we continue to move forward with you, we recommit to be here for you — to put your needs first,” Gardella wrote. “This was our mistake. We own it, we regret it, and we apologize for letting you down.”
The letter, which was crafted by Chamber executive director Nancy Gardella and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici in conjunction with Cyr and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and other Cape and Islands health officials stressed that the Island is highly vulnerable to infected people and asymptomatic carriers. It outlined outlines ways seasonal residents and visitors can ensure the safety of the Island community:
- Self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days once reaching your destination. It is best to go directly to your destination and not stop elsewhere on the Vineyard on the way.
- Bring all necessary food and supplies with you to enable the 14-day quarantine, including prescriptions, personal health items and personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Contact Martha’s Vineyard Hospital by calling the MVH Call Center at 508-684-4500 if you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms or experiencing respiratory illness during or after quarantine to receive instructions on accessing appropriate care.
- Comply with all local, state, and federal directives and recommendations regarding physical distancing and other measures to limit the spread of the virus.
- Wear face masks in public places when physical distancing is difficult.
- Refrain from hosting or attending private home parties or large gatherings. Instead, order takeout food or have it delivered from local restaurants.
- Be diligent with hand-washing and disinfecting much-used surfaces.
- Limit trips to the grocery store
“We are looking forward to welcoming the many people who help make Martha’s Vineyard a special place back to the Island,” the letter stated. “We know this season will be unlike any that came before it, and it will take some time for all of us to adjust to the new normal. We want to ensure that the measures which have so far kept our community safe are embraced and practiced by all those coming to the Vineyard.”
Nantucket leaders wrote an identical letter to seasonal residents asking for the same precautions.
In a statement Wednesday, Schepici said the intent of the letter was to offer guidance under the governor’s order suggesting travelers to Martha’s Vineyard self-quarantine for 14 days.
“I want to be clear that I believe any final decisions about the course we will take in the weeks and months ahead need to be made by our local town leaders and our local health agents. I have appreciated the opportunity to join those conversations and I look forward to continuing them.”
Schepici also wrote that she understood the disruption any change to normal summer plans might have on the Island’s economy and lifestyle. She stressed the importance of bringing supplies to the Island to limit trips to the grocery store.
“What happened yesterday with the Chamber’s letter is completely understandable – the intent was to offer guidance under the governor’s current executive order which suggests any travelers to Martha’s Vineyard need to self-quarantine for 14 days. That is the governor’s order until May 18th. We do not know what the governor will propose after that, but one thing we can bet on — it will not be business as usual on May 19th.”
She went on to say “we are far from out of the woods yet” and that no one knows who may be asymptomatic.
“When this is over – and we will find a vaccine – I hope we can look back at this time with pride and reflect on how we worked together – we considered the facts,” Schepici wrote “We were smart, thoughtful and focused on safety and how best to take care of one another.
Updated to add more information from Schepici letter. — Ed.