State reopens slowly

Island’s tourism businesses won’t be allowed to reopen until second phase; ask for unified approach by Island towns.

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Gov. Charlie Baker announces the reopening of some business in the Bay State.

Updated 4:30 pm 

Gov. Charlie Baker is moving the state from a stay-at-home advisory to a “safer-at-home” advisory, allowing some construction and manufacturing businesses to reopen amid strict protocols that require them to follow safety standards to protect the public health through social distancing and sanitizing requirements.

Beginning next Monday, May 25, additional businesses, like barbershops and hair salons, will be allowed to reopen. The requirement to wear a face covering in public remains in effect, Baker said.

In addition to Monday’s guidelines, on May 25, Baker said, office spaces will be allowed to reopen 25 percent of their capacity; some retail stores will be allowed to offer curbside service; salons, barbershops, and pet grooming will be allowed to open by appointment only; and car washes will be allowed to have exterior car washing. Also as of May 25, beaches, parks, athletic fields, and other outdoor spaces will be allowed to reopen.

The initial businesses allowed to reopen are in construction, manufacturing, and houses of worship. The businesses so vital to the Martha’s Vineyard economy — restaurants and hospitality — are not included in the initial phase of reopening, even as Memorial Day weekend is approaching.

In a letter sent to boards of selectmen and boards of health in all six towns reacting to the governor’s announcement Monday, 14 Island business leaders are calling on a unified approach by the Vineyard to the challenges faced as a result of COVID-19.

We can no longer react solely as individual businesses or even towns, but instead must respond as one Island,” the letter states. “We have formed an All Island Business Task Force in coordination with the three down-Island business associations, the Chamber of Commerce, and up-Island business owners to develop and implement a holistic and unified approach to this pandemic.”

The letter requests that a meeting be called of the All-Island Selectmen and All-Island Boards of Health to discuss the state regulations. “We would ask that you adopt the state regulations, with a commitment to no additions in all six towns,” the letter states.

The letter also requests an agenda to discuss unified signs, develop a universal strategy on beaches and open spaces, and develop unified policies and enforcement of current and future face-covering regulations.
“We appreciate the leadership you’ve demonstrated to date, and look forward to working together as [we] move into the season,” the letter concludes.

The bulk of the Island’s tourism-related businesses be allowed in phase two, though there is no specific date in the governor’s plan. 

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said businesses that are in phase two should review the safety standards that businesses will be required to introduce, so that they can be prepared to reopen when it’s allowed. Businesses will need to create a written plan for how they will prevent the spread of COVID-19. The plans do not need approval, but are required for inspections. Businesses that do not comply after multiple check-ins could face fines.

Each phase will last at least three weeks, according to Baker, and could last longer, depending on the public health data.

“This effort will hinge fundamentally on personal responsibility,” Baker said. He stressed people to remember four things: Cover your nose and mouth, wash hands and surfaces, keep your distance from others, and stay vigilant for symptoms and stay home if you’re sick.

Occupancy at houses of worship will be limited to 40 percent of the building’s maximum permitted occupancy, including attendees and staff; attendees who are not of the same household must be seated six feet apart, and any fixed seating rows should be blocked off to allow for proper social distancing.

In addition, all staff and attendees must wear face coverings, unless unable due to a medical or disabling condition, and staff may refuse to allow entry to anyone not wearing a face covering. Gatherings before and after worship services are banned, but those running food pantries may continue to do so.

In an email to The Times, Father Chip Seadale of St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown said they are following guidance from the diocesan bishop. Last week the Right Reverends Alan Gates and Douglas Fisher decreed that all Episcopal congregations, which includes St. Andrew’s, would not be permitted to open for public worship until at least July 1, at which time the bishop would issue further guidance.

St. Andrew’s continues to stay connected to its members through Zoom, Facebook, and phone calls.

“The leadership of St. Andrew’s Church fully supports that decision, agreeing with a recent comment by the canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Colorado, who recently wrote that ‘The number of acceptable deaths as a result of our [diocesan] actions is ZERO,’” Seadale said in part. “So, unless and until we are certain our actions in maintaining public worship will not jeopardize the health of any of our beloved members, we will be happy to wait until we can all meet (physically) again. Until that time, we are delighted with how the Holy Spirit continues to bind us in love and affection for each other.”

Similarly, Rabbi Caryn Broitman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center told The Times in an email that in-person gatherings will have to wait.

“The health of our members and guests is our absolute priority, and we believe there is an unacceptable risk in holding services or other gatherings indoors at this time. We continue to have a full online program of worship services and classes that has strengthened our connections with each other. When the time is right, we will explore the possibility of outside worship with appropriate precautions.”

Manufacturing and construction guidelines similarly require workers to wear face coverings and be at least six feet apart unless otherwise needed for the work. The guidelines also call for companies to “reengineer” workstations to increase distance between workers, and use markers to delineate six-foot separations. Handwashing stations with soap and running water must be provided on worksites.

As the state’s guidelines go into effect, the Island’s own phase two construction guidelines go into effect Monday. 

“Collectively we have flattened the curve and avoided the spike in case that would have broken our healthcare system, but if we don’t keep up the fight and do all the things that we all know we have to do and know we can do, we run the risk of creating a second spike in the fall,” Baker said.

Benito’s Hair Styling is already booking appointments from a waitlist that owner Tracy Briscoe has been keeping.

Traditionally Benito’s, which sits on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, has always been a walk-in shop. Briscoe said the switch to appointments only will be an “adjustment,” but she is excited to open.

Briscoe has also put additional health and safety measures into place, such as a hand sanitizer area and keeping track of employee temperatures when they come to work.

Clients will be called before appointments, and all equipment will be changed out for each new appointment. The shop will also only allow one client in at a time.

“We will only have that one person in, so we won’t have anyone in the waiting area any longer,” Briscoe said. “I’ve had the place cleaned and sanitized. We’ve been ready.”

While Baker’s unveiling provided guidance for some businesses, many are still left in the dark. “We have information and no information. We know we’re in phase two, but we don’t have any guidance for it,” Diane Carr, a partner in Hob Knob Hotel and a spokeswoman for a Martha’s Vineyard inn and hotel group, said.

Carr praised the way the Baker administration is introducing the phases, with comprehensive information on what’s allowed and the protocols that have to be in place.

Two weeks ago, the hospitality groups from the Vineyard and Nantucket joined forces in sending a letter to the governor’s advisory group asking for those protocols.

“It’s nice that lodging and restaurants will be in the same group. They go hand in hand,” she said.

Carr said Hob Knob and other Island inns and hotels are working to find sources of personal protective equipment (PPE), so that when they do have the go-ahead, they’re ready to go. Hotel owners are sharing best practices and ideas. “We want everyone to be successful,” Carr said.

And, yes, the phone’s been ringing. “That’s always a bit of a thorn in our side. You can’t give [visitors] good information yet … We’ll book a reservation, and tell them if they can’t come on that date, we’ll refund it.”

Typically, inns like Hob Knob would be at 40 to 50 percent capacity in April and May. By Memorial Day Weekend, they would be at or near capacity, she said.

The difficulty is not knowing what they’ll need to do. For example, will they be allowed to provide housekeeping services every day? Will there be a required gap between visits of 48 to 72 hours for a room? How will they serve their morning breakfast to guests?

“We’ll be ready and our industry will be ready as soon as we get the go-ahead,” Carr said.

Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, said she’s pleased with the work of the governor’s advisory board and its understanding of just how important the tourism industry is to the state’s economy.

“Our governor is a data-driven governor, and is not going to commit to a firm timeline unless the metrics warrant moving from one phase to another,” Gardella said. “We’re walking a tightrope between wanting to get back to business and wanting to keep everyone safe and healthy and not overwhelm our hospital, but understanding that our businesses need to be working.”

Island businesses have been working together, sharing ideas, and gearing up for reopening.

“At least this gives us a bit of a roadmap,” she said of the governor’s protocols for the initial phase.

George Brennan contributed to this report. Updated to add information from Island businesses and organizations. — Ed.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure one of your frequent posters will comment that we are being “bullied” to open.
    That people will die because of this….. Yes, the people who own small businesses that rely on tourism
    Time to move on and get our lives and our livelihoods back. if you don’t feel safe please stay at home

    • View– yup, you were correct . here I am , a frequent commenter saying that we are in fact being bullied to open.
      I am pretty sure you are “pro life” please correct me if I am wrong on that opinion.
      So how do you square the concept of putting dollars over death ?
      You seem to be old enough and aware enough to remember the decision to not fix the gas tank “problem” on the Ford Pinto. They put a price on the value of a life, and decided it was cheaper to pay off the bereaved families, rather than fix the problem.
      So, ok, this kills older people at a higher rate. You may not mind your mother or grandmother dying, because you will likely benefit financially. But if your child dies, you loose financially.
      And young people do in fact die.
      I have to ask— are you really pro life, or are you willing to sacrifice life for money.
      is this a dollars for death proposition ?

      • DonDon, not sure where to start, your stream of consciousness political diatribes would put James Joyce on notice if he were trying to write for Keeping up with the Kardashians. The human toll in this pandemic is terrible no matter what prism you view it through. However, to criticize those concerned about their livelihood and ability to provide for their families through a thinly veiled partisan attack is sophomoric at best. Pragmatically opening up the economy is necessary in order to preserve the basic livelihoods of the majority of those on MV. Those high at risk please continue to shelter in place if you feel at risk.

      • Donx3…you being a contractor, I wonder if you would have the same cavalier attitude if Charlie Parker said absolutely no construction of any kind until further notice. BTW…I am pro choice….but for you to make the statement of putting ”dollars over death” is the height of hypocrisy and you know exactly what I am referring to. Here’s a hint…it begins with an A.

  2. It was too eerie being on Circuit Ave this weekend picking up take out. No one on the sidewalks, too much parking, almost every shop closed up tight. If this is the quiet season folks have wanted it seems we got it.

  3. Any thought in OB to restricting / banning vehicle traffic and parking on Circuit Ave from 10:00am each day until 6:00am the next morning. The time of 6:00am – 10:00am each day would allow for required deliveries, etc. The rest of the time (20 hours) with the avenue closed would allow for better social distancing / using the avenue as a walkway in addition to the narrow sidewalks.

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