These times call for ingenuity


To the Editor:

My name is Michael White, and I live in Edgartown with my folks. My father works in a T shirt store and my mother works for the museum. They used to have other jobs in other places, but they love what they do now, and I’m happy for them. I didn’t grow up on this Island, but it feels like home for me. My usual job is in the touring live music industry, so I’m usually only on-Island for the winter months to do the family holidays, then back to the road. But, you know … unusual year. My usual is gone, without any timetable for return, and I know I’m not unique in that regard. I’ve been spending the past months doing what most of you have: watching the news, walking on the beach, panicking.

I keep watching the TV, waiting for the breaking news beeps. So badly I want somebody with an ironed shirt or maybe wearing a smart pin to come on, and they’ll explain how we can navigate the summer season here. This person will acknowledge that the past few months have been hard, they’ve been devastating, but he or she spent the time we were all stuck home coming up with the steps and plans we all need to adopt to ensure our families stay healthy through the tourist season. I know how important it is to feel like better days are coming, that there’s a plan, that we’ve all done our little part of this grand national effort to bend the curve. We deserve that, dammit; we deserve so much more than that.

But I fear that won’t come. I think much more likely, because of the seasonal nature of this place, that our curve hasn’t even started. As the weather gets nicer, we’ll open our stores and bars and museums. I try not to spend too long a time these days doomsaying. Everybody needs these places open so they can make some money to get through the winter months. I get it. More than that, everyone needs these places open so we can feel normal again. I get that too. But I think if we’re going to open the doors, we should be spending some time now dreaming up what we could do differently. Let’s say we’re hit with another, much larger round of illness, beyond social distancing; how can we apply what we’ve learned from this time? I know many folks have thrown out ideas, I think that’s exactly what we all should be doing.

So here’s my start — I’d like to propose a safe food-shopping initiative, nothing mandatory, just an idea for those who’d like it:

I’ve been thinking more and more about the food stores, while we all continue to perfect policies around personal protective wear — might it not be smarter to keep at-risk populations out of the food store completely? Is it not still risky to have our most at-risk friends and family interacting with the public, everyone of whom has a different interpretation of how long to quarantine, who really has to be kept at six feet, and can’t I just visit my neighbors? After all, the dog needs a walk, and Christine is only on-Island for two weeks, so if not tomorrow, when will I see her?

Why not designate 30 folks — young, healthy, no particular risk factors — interested in volunteering to help keep some of the more vulnerable people on the Island safe through the turbulent times coming?

What if we opened up a registry, offering three grocery plans — vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free?

These plans cost, let’s say, $200.

Our 30 young, healthy folks go into the food store at a designated time (say, 4:30 pm on Wednesdays, when only those 30 are allowed) and shop for five families. They then deliver the food to the five households in the evening, leaving the bags on the porch for an hour for contactless pickup; 30 young folks x 5 families is 150 households. It’s not helping everyone, not even close, but it’s something.

With only 30 people participating, we should (big should here) in a few months have the capability to fairly regularly test them, keeping the odds of them cross-infecting others in the program low(er). These 30 would also have to commit to being even more responsible in socially distancing. I would say for them, the most stringent measures should be adopted. What’re they doing this summer? 1: This program; 2: Not getting sick. This is their new job, responsibility, and hobby. At least for the time being, they’re having drinks with friends via Zoom. 

I don’t think this plan is perfect:

  • People working at the food stores could be infected.
  • Families of those volunteering for the service could be infected.
  • One-size-fits-all plans won’t work for each family.
  • Countless other complications.

It’s not perfect; it’s a start. I want us to get through this season as healthy and productive as possible. I think socially-distant shopping plans are a place to start, but it’s such a small part of what’s coming. I figured I’d write out my silly idea in the hopes of someone much smarter than I am doing the same. If there’s someone with an NPR voice out there, I could really use you right now.

Michael White