Updated 7:46 pm
West Tisbury selectmen voted unanimously Wednesday evening to recommend the board of health install roadside signs and affix or distribute business signs promoting mask usage. Unable to fully support a request made in absentia by health agent Omar Johnson to back a state initiative to better fund and develop local boards of health, the board tabled the subject until its next meeting, when Johnson would be present to take questions.
Mask-Up Martha and We Stand Together member Laura Silber told the board until there’s unified signage, West Tisbury should take initiative and post signs of its own.
“What the Island has not done as a whole, as a region, is create a culture around wearing a mask,” she said. “There’s no regional effort on masking. We don’t have a … visible public health effort that’s consistent through the whole Island. So it varies from town town to town. So you see signs in Oak Bluffs, you see a roadside sign in Vineyard Haven, and you see nothing when you drive through West Tisbury.”
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell, who is CEO and founding director of Island Health Care, said the nonprofit’s chief public health nurse, Lila Fischer, is about to undertake a “mask campaign.”
“She’s hoping to have it be privately funded on a fairly large scale. I’m not sure that that funding will come through. At any rate, there will be a regional board of health project — the health agents have all agreed that these public health nurses that work for Island Health Care can begin such a campaign,” Mitchell said.
Silber said she identified the private donor Mitchell mentioned, and brought that person to Fischer’s attention. She confirmed the funding is not yet secured, and may take time, but that the need for signage is immediate. “The longer we wait, the less compliance we have,” she said.
Silber praised Island Health Care for the COVID-19 testing signage it had throughout West Tisbury.
Mask-Up Martha and We Stand Together member Joy Robinson Lynch praised the contact tracing Fisher has done via Island Health Care.
Robinson advocated for signage on town buildings. She mentioned the sign at Lambert’s Cove Beach was an effective example, and what she was hoping to see elsewhere.
We Stand Together member Nikoca Blake spoke in favor of mask signage. “My family in England are having a much harder time than we are now in New England, because nobody wants to be the first or the last person to be masked,” she said. “You know, I just think we need a strong, clear message.”
Mitchell said the signs seemed best covered by the board of health budget.
Selectman Kent Healy said he would personally contribute “several hundred dollars” to creating signage.
Selectman Skipper Manter expressed support for the board of health captaining signage in town. “I concur with the idea,” Manter said. “I think it’s a good one.”
Town administrator Jennifer Rand told the board Johnson sought endorsement of “state action … for additional support and funding for local boards of health.”
When a vote on the subject was proposed, Healy demurred. “I’ve dealt with all the boards of health over many years, and I’m always worried about when they talk about improving things — what they mean,” he said. “Boards of health have a lot of power, and I worry sometimes that they do things they shouldn’t be doing. So I’m concerned by what they mean by improvement. I’m always in favor of improvement, but there’s different interpretations of what that means.”
Manter and Mitchell expressed support for the vote, but Manter said he wanted the vote to be unanimous.
“Kent, would you make a motion to sign on in support?” Mitchell asked.
“I would not,” he said.
Manter asked Healy what could be done to gain his vote.
“Improvement is just such a broad statement,” Healy said. “I would like to know more about what they plan to do. Why do they think things need to be improved? What do they think they’re going to do?”
Rand said she believed the selectmen’s signatures on the matter were desired by Friday.
“If Kent has questions,” Manter said, “and I respect him very much in these areas, I’d rather wait a week and get those questions answered.”
In other business, the board discussed a mask order, but took no action.
Updated to correct what matter the board wasn’t able to vote on unanimously.