Hospital, Chamber backtrack on letter to seasonal residents

Letter causes backlash from Oak Bluffs leaders.

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A letter that was intended to inform seasonal residents is being criticized because Island town leaders weren't consulted.

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.

  • The Chamber has been irrelevant for decades. They champion summer visitations and then take a walk. Anyone with a pulse can bring business here in the summer. What have they done for the shoulder seasons? This island is beautiful year round. What have they done to promote visits in the Winter? They should be embarrassed how they have been outdone by the Edgartown Board of Trade and the OB business community. They are useless.

    • The Island is beautiful year around.
      So beautiful that so many Islanders go somewhere else in the Winter.

    • Please write a sample brochure on how to promote visits in the Winter.
      Pictures of ice boating (global warming killed that).
      A quiet stroll on the beach.
      Small ferry lines.
      There must be other good reasons to visit the Vineyard in the Winter.
      I can’t think of any more right now, what do you have?

      • Quiet. Come for the quiet, or quietude. (Being able to do nothing comfortably is expensive.) Beautiful beaches. Bracing salt air and the calm of an unhurriied Island life beckon. Savor the sound of the surf and the sight of breaking, blue-green waves. The sunset! Don’t miss nature at its finest wh; it’s delicious and its on tap. Come to the Vineyard and leave rush hour behind; it will still be there when you return. On this Island, the morning sky shines just a bit more brilliant shade of blue and at night the starlight is breathtaking. (Hey, I am just winging it here. I could go on, but unfortunately, it’s time for the trenches again. If you’re a wash-ashore, remember what brought you here. After your first four seasons, think of what kept you here.)

        • “On this Island, the morning sky shines just a bit more brilliant shade of blue and at night the starlight is breathtaking.”
          That is true of most every island.
          It is right on the masthead of the Gazette.
          Vineyarders have a superiority complex.
          They are not.
          The Vineyard is an OK island, for it’s population density.

          • “Please write a sample brochure on how to promote visits in the Winter.” Work with me here, will ya? There are other good reasons to visit the Vineyard in the Winter. Yes, as Dylan Thomas wrote in Under Milkwood, “I know there are
            Towns lovelier than ours,
            And fairer hills and loftier far,
            And groves more full of flowers,”

            Accentuate the positive, even if it’s found in other places. If you and I don’t see it, we can’t expect anyone else to see it.

    • Maybe the depth of winter is undesirable, but spring, at least, has a lot to offer. Think of the past month or so. Longer days with highs of about 50 and no crowding. It’s been very peaceful. Beaches are still a bit cold and windy, but all the trails are absolutely gorgeous if you pick a sunny day. You get the real rustic feel of the place without so many people here.

  • Don’t call yourselves town leaders if you’re going to do away with necessary precautions in the name of money. The letter is needed and fine as is.

    • They will be the town leaders for as long as they are in office.
      You could have been a town leader.
      But did not bother.

      • True. A broken toaster is still technically a toaster. Doesn’t make it any more useful.

  • That’s too bad the letter had to be removed. I appreciate the Chamber’s attempt for looking out for our public health and working with the hospital. Someone needs to support our health professionals recommendations and the islanders and their families. I understand your dilemma in having to make that choice. Thank you anyway

    • That’s just the point the chamber made. They are not public health officials and should not overstep . Someone needs to speak for the thousands of people that are out of work and want to take the correct precautions and to tell people when you come, you’re welcome but stay home is not out of an abundance of care.

  • I’m not sure I under$tand?!! 🤣
    Why take it down when it is sound advice and represents how we have been forced to live here, right now. Leave it up. It might be able to be taken down in as early as 5 weeks…

  • So, to be clear, Packish and company are publicly saying that they don’t stand with the hospital and don’t endorse quarantine for people coming from off island?

  • Nancy is a kind old woman but needs to step away. Additionally people who think the Chamber is at all relevant need to rethink it

  • Did Mayor Larry Vaughn object to this letter too? The lack of actual leadership at all levels of our government is frightening.People WILL bring this virus with them this summer. The sooner town leaders start to follow health professionals advice and not worry about their wallets in the short term the better off we will be. There is a lot of pain ahead for all of us.This myopic thinking from town leaders will only exacerbate it.

    • I see this as an end run. our state reps went to the chamber and hospital to get them to started on this letter? That’s rude. That letter should come from the island to the town reps. I smell an ulterior motive. I also think OB was correct in the backlash for this letter. It is out of line. Come but stay home and bring essentials with you. Don’t shop local and btw, you’re all idiots when you arrive on island, only the chamber and hospital knows what’s best for you. What are all you going to do when you are cooped up for another 4 weeks and want to go out to the beach? Is that not allowed or because it is you, you’re allowed?

      • Exactly! What about people that can only come for 1 week or 13 days? Look, practice safe distancing, masks in stores and businesses and we will be fine. Had the government recommended masks in the first place we would all be better off and probably less crazed. There is no guarantee that there will be a vaccine, so what about next year or the year after? We need a commonsense approach to this. Not fear mongering. Yes it can be deadly and yes it is contagious but risks can be dramatically reduced. I think the truth is most of those that want these restrictions really just don’t want anyone that doesn’t look just like them or are not “true islanders” here.

        • ” I think the truth is most of those that want these restrictions really just don’t want anyone that doesn’t look just like them…”

          What does this even mean? How do tourists look different from Islanders? The fanny packs? We are in the middle of a pandemic. This is a small island with a rural hospital. That’s the reason for the warnings. To suggest otherwise is absurd.

  • I was so proud of the Chamber for supporting that letter. OB is a joke. Everyone knows it. And Packish is the lead clown! Leaders Lead Brian. They do the right thing, for the good of all, even when it’s hard, even when it costs you something. Your reaction to this letter and to the steamship dock show your only care is yourself and your town. The rest of us be damned

    • All is well if you’re Brian Packish, Mr. Doesn’t need to social distance. Everything done by him is for him, look what he’s done in OB after Tony’s, it’s disgusting to look at.

  • The summer is upon us. The population dynamics of this place are known and utterly predictable. You cannot prevent it, and you have no recourse. You also have no reason to believe that seasonal residents have been any less conscientious than islanders as regards COVID precautions. It is likely that they have been even more cautious than those that have come and gone on the ferries (both ways) in March and April. An additional 14 day quarantine is likely redundant to their existing 30+ day stay at home period. You cannot prevent people from lawfully occupying their own homes, regardless of your opinion on the issue. They’re coming whether you like it or not, many of them are already here, and they have a majority ownership stake in this place. This is the true and complete island community – the one that funds and sustains the place – as opposed to the winter skeleton crew.

  • Thank you Oak Bluffs businesses for your pushback. We are a resort and this type of nonsense out of the hospital administration has gone on way too long. The notion you don’t support the hospital because you have a family to feed is ridiculous. The staff is there and supported. All predictions by CEO have been wrong to date. Oak Bluffs leadership is spot on, thank you!

  • “Nancy is a kind old woman”, what a demeaning comment.It’s insulting to someone that has cared about this Island for decades. It’s one thing if you disagree with what she’s saying, but if you said this about me, I’d be furious. I am a kind older woman, but I’m also much more than that.

    • The Times, I think, has a little trouble with discretion, even as it bends over backwards to quote accurately. (I recollect the quotes attributed to now-retired Chief Rose and our OB Town Administrator during the on-going debacle at our firehouse.) Once again, I think a little discreet editing is called for when a person in the public eye is referred to as a “kind, old lady” who apparently should retire, according to “lisa22.” I’m going to have to believe that “22” is your age, Lisa. When you are my age (80), hopefully you will understand how incredibly demeaning that remark was. And MV Times, you know, you don’t have to print everything you receive/hear, just sayin’.

  • The tone of this letter is mean spirited and un-Constitutional.

    So you want us to fly in with all our supplies, stay out of stores and quarantine for the length of our hard earned (and self-financed) vacation?

    Got it.

    • You can’t be serious. Mean? They’re trying to keep a pandemic under control. How can you look at this from such a self-centered point of view still, after all the loss of life globally? I was supposed to spend the summer off-Island. Am not going. I’m not welcome, and I don’t blame anyone one bit for that. Of course towns are nervous about travel, it spreads disease.

      It’s like some haven’t accepted that tackling this public threat is more important than their own fun.

  • Oh for heaven’s sake. The letter merely stated what Ms. Schepici and the board of health has been saying all along. People who own second homes here read the local papers. They know what’s going on here. Business on the Island isn’t going to be good this summer…get used to it people.

  • Here is what will happen: The people will come to the island, workers, home owners, renters, day trippers, and returning islanders from off island medical trips. No one can stop this virus coming to the island, please rid yourselves of that pie in the sky notion. There are numbers of people running around without PPE and best practices, some out of ignorance, some out of devil may care and some out of stupidity. The island cannot protect itself from the virus in greater numbers. I do not want that as I am of the compromised percentage and have done everything in my power to protect myself and others. It is coming and you cannot control others.

  • The only problem I see is that unlike Nantucket’s letter the towns were not asked for input. That was definitely a mistake and I understand the different towns being upset at seeing the letter published. I would ask what they would have changed?

  • I really don’t know what all the comments are about, the summer is shot poeple I mean shot, this is what we all should be doing, plant a real garden, take up hunting rabbit, dear, turkey or what ever else you can stomach also grab a fishing pole and learn how to smoke fish, and a plain shovel will get you clams, and don’t forget wild blueberries mixed with animal fat will sustain you with C and fat during the winter, if we all pull together we got this. Vineyard Strong

  • A more fundamental question. Since we are taking Covid patients off island for treatment when they need hospitalization, isn’t the concern about our hospital capacity a red herring? It’s not like we are many miles out to sea with no access to the mainland and it’s hospitals.

    • Billy, according to local news media, some COVID patients have been admitted, some have gone Off-Island, and some, both. MVH is an acute care facility. You can look up that term if you want. That MVH is not packed with shorter duration admissions can be attributed largely to precuations. (Are you part of the “we” who take COVID pateints somewhere?) A detailed desciption of patient acuity is beyond both of us. Start tampering with precautions, and one might wind up thinking of these past few months as, ‘the good old days.’

    • Not a red herring. In my experience, our hospital has often transferred serious cases when possible.

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