A friend posted this on Facebook: “It’s ironic the issue of wearing face coverings has unmasked the selfishness of so many people in this country.”
That boils down the whole mask debate into one sentence. There should be no debate. Health experts recommend wearing masks or face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19 if you can’t maintain social distance. Yet the selfish among us scoff.
The two people on a Steamship Authority bus who refused to put on masks after being asked by two other passengers are a prime example of this selfishness. But it’s also a demonstration that it does no good to have a regulation if you’re not going to enforce it. Under Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order, masks are to be worn on buses and other public transportation — period. Despite the dispute, which forced the bus driver to pull over at one point and someone to call the police, the SSA didn’t do enough to help the passengers who wanted the regulations enforced.
“There was nobody else on the bus, so they were able to socially distance,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll told our reporter. He went on to say, “It was not a fight we were going to pick” at that point.
If not then, when? This is the exact fight to pick.
Instead, the two men got on a ferry where masks are also supposed to be mandatory unless passengers are sitting outside. We’ve asked the SSA about other instances of people not wearing masks — observed and photographed by members of our staff — and have gotten the same “social distancing” response. But that’s not what the governor’s regulation says about masks on public transportation, and the SSA should both understand that and find a way to enforce the order.
According to Baker’s order, “all persons are also required to wear masks or cloth face coverings when providing or using the services of any taxi, car, livery, ride-sharing, or similar service, or any means of mass public transit, or while within an enclosed or semi-enclosed transit stop or waiting area.”
The SSA is finally stepping up with a mask policy that will call in police, if necessary, to enforce the regulations.
As we’ve pointed out previously, it’s not about the protection a mask or face covering will provide you. The problem with COVID-19 is that asymptomatic people can transmit the virus without ever knowing they had it. That’s why masks are so important. With apologies to President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what wearing a mask will do for you, but what wearing a mask will do for your country.”
The more people flout mask wearing, the more necessary it’s become to create regulations AND TO ENFORCE THOSE REGULATIONS.
We appreciate the order approved last week by the Edgartown board of health that requires wearing a mask in the downtown area. It takes away any ambiguity.
And while we understand that the town doesn’t want to come down hard on residents and visitors — preferring to use ambassadors to educate the public rather than police officers to enforce the order — it’s beyond time to enforce the regulations and set an example to make the point that COVID-19 is deadly serious, and we’re serious about the need to wear masks.
The Edgartown regulation also points out the need for a unified voice for the Island. The towns and their health departments worked so well together in the early going, creating stay-at-home orders and construction regulations that took the same approach and showed strength.
It was good while it lasted.
Since then, it’s been every town for itself — a helter-skelter scenario that’s confusing for visitors. The virus doesn’t stop once it gets to the border of Edgartown and West Tisbury. Unlike other places, there is no county health department on the Vineyard, a void that makes it impossible to provide a unified message, despite the efforts of people like Tisbury health agent Maura Valley. Instead, we have a Martha’s Vineyard board of health website that hasn’t been updated since March — that’s four months ago. Might as well be four years in coronavirus time. Don’t believe us? Here’s the link to mvboh.com.
And if a visitor Googles Martha’s Vineyard and COVID-19, after the hospital’s website, the next site on the search is Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. That about sums up the lack of public information for residents and visitors. There isn’t any public information, other than what is being compiled by news organizations such as ours.
Instead of the unified voice we had early on, we now have the dysfunction that’s put the Vineyard behind on so many important issues like housing, opiate addiction, and tick-borne illnesses.
You could argue that the one illuminated sign in Vineyard Haven has done more for mask compliance than the regulations put into effect in Edgartown. We need more of those signs, and more of that unified message, or we could face some of the same issues as other hot spots.
In our Minute poll Tuesday, we asked about mask-wearing and the response was robust and overwhelming — 82 percent of our respondents believe the towns should come together and mandate a regional mask-wearing policy.
Where are the Island leaders? Has anyone heard from the All-Island Board of Selectmen? Where is the social media presence for the Island, besides the overly cheerful “Martha’s Vineyard” on Instagram that comes across like it’s being written by Mayor Larry Vaughn of the fictional Amity.
Who is going to step up and let the world know — we want you to visit, but we insist that you do it safely? A culture can be created on the Island in which wearing a mask is essential, but it’s going to take leadership and a unified approach. And we’re out of time to waste.