Chilmark will require masks and face coverings at Menemsha — in the beach parking lot, in the area of the Home Port, and near the Coast Guard boathouse, among other high-density locations.
On Tuesday night, during a joint meeting between the Chilmark board of selectmen and board of health, the selectmen endorsed an order approved by the health board. The mandatory mask order goes into effect Friday, and is effective from 9 am to 9 pm, covering Menemsha’s well-attended sunsets. (Clapping is still allowed.)
The area covered by the face-covering order is North Road from the stop sign, at North Road and Basin Roads to the western end of North Road (essentially toward the Galley), the Home Port parking lot, the Boathouse Road past the Coast Guard boathouse, the West Dock at the end of Boathouse Road, Basin Road, parking lot at Menemsha Beach, and all the docks, as well as transiting the jetty.
The boards agreed that two other places mentioned — Quitsa Landing and Beetlebung Corner — don’t require the mandatory order. However, on the urging of selectman Jim Malkin, the town will put up signs strongly encouraging masks at Quitsa.
Malkin had suggested making masks mandatory there, but health board chair Matt Poole said he didn’t think it was necessary. He asked Malkin what the problem was he was responding to at Quitsa Landing. “Speaking for myself, people in close proximity not wearing masks,” Malkin said.
Poole said Gov. Charlie Baker’s order that requires masks in public when social distancing can’t be accomplished covers that area sufficiently. He added that the new signs should be clear. “Convey the message very clearly, not in the sort of friendly, folksy tone we’ve had to move away from, because it doesn’t work so well,” Poole said. “Come up with some clear, direct language for Quitsa Landing … See if the signage works.”
Menemsha, on the other hand, is a priority. “I view Menemsha and Quitsa Landing as two different situations, where Menemsha we’ve pretty much established that we need to take the next step and be more strict and clear about our requirements,” he said. The order can be expanded to include Quitsa if necessary, Poole said.
During a discussion that got deep into the beach grass, the health board ultimately decided beachgoers have to wear masks until they find their spots in the sand, and then don’t have to wear them while maintaining the 12 feet of distance required by Gov. Charlie Baker’s orders.
When selectmen chairman Bill Rossi asked if the Chilmark order is aligned with Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, where both towns have instituted mandatory mask orders in their downtowns, Poole — the health agent in Edgartown — appeared agitated. “I’m pretty familiar with the Edgartown Main Street order, thank you,” he said. “I’m also familiar with the Oak Bluffs order.”
Later, he confirmed they are aligned.
Town leaders delayed action on hiring public health education “ambassadors,” like Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are doing, to help encourage mask-wearing compliance, to give health officials another week to consider it. “Delegating this responsibility to a citizen’s group is asking a lot of citizens,” Poole said. “No. 1, they’re representing the town. No. 2, it’s not for the faint of heart necessarily.”
Poole suggested training would be necessary. “We’re not ready to commit to ambassadors tonight.”
Malkin agreed. “It doesn’t stop anyone from walking up to people and saying, ‘Excuse me, in Menemsha we wear masks.’ I’ve had one less than positive experience, but with a bit of humor the individual sheepishly acknowledged that I was right and he was wrong. But I think it’s a matter of continuing to pass that message on to people. Before we call in the feds.”
Like other towns, the order gives the town the authority to issue fines, but education will continue to be the priority, health board member Jan Burnham said. “We are here to educate and encourage,” she said.
Police Chief Jonathan Klaren said officers are already versed in alerting the public of the need to wear a mask, and will continue to do that. “The police role is the same as it’s always been back when the governor’s order started; we delivered the message to people that it was a mask or six feet. Then, as you know, we changed from, while you’re in Menemsha, it’s recommended you wear a mask,” Klaren said. “As of tonight, the message the police will deliver is while you’re in Menemsha, the town has made the mask wearing mandatory.”
In other business, an agenda item that included the clothing-optional portion of Lucy Vincent Beach created a buzz ahead of the meeting, but never came to bear — or should we say bare.
Prior to the meeting, Bow Van Riper, the research librarian at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, told The Times beachgoers have been sunbathing and swimming nude on the south shore of Chilmark since at least the 1920s and 1930s. Lucy Vincent Beach was distinctly categorized as a nudist beach in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was still known as “Jungle Beach.” In the 1980s, the beach became divided, with nude beachgoers to the right and clothed beachgoers to the left, as the beach operates today. While state law prohibits nudity on public beaches, Chilmark officials have quietly looked the other way, so long as the nudists congregated in a single part of the beach, well removed from clothed beachgoers, said Van Riper.
Selectmen briefly discussed what it means between the Lucy Vincent Beach being closed, the lot being closed, and the beach being closed as a result of COVID-19 with Martina Mastromonaco, a member of the beach committee. Specific talks about the clothing-optional portion of the beach never got covered.
Meanwhile, town clerk Jennifer Christy told selectmen an alternative site is needed for early voting besides town hall. “Looking at it with these new COVID eyeglasses, I felt that it was not a very suitable place for early voting, especially if we end up — which is very possible — having quite a good response of in-person early voting,” she said. She and the board of registrars requested using the Chilmark Community Center for the Sept. 1 primary and the Nov. 3 general election. Christy added there would be seven days of early voting prior to the primary, and 14 days prior to the general election.
Chilmark School has asked to use the Community Center, and town hall would also like to use it for offsite meeting space, town administrator Tim Carroll said. “We’ll have to make allowances for those two uses moving forward,” he said.
Selectman Warren Doty said the town should make the center available to the schools so they can provide distancing for the students. “We need to give the school top priority,” he said.
Selectmen approved using the Community Center for early voting in August, but held off on a decision about November.
Christy said a lot of voters may opt to vote by mail, a new option signed into law by Gov. Baker. “I have signs. I have messages. There’s a great amount of people who prefer to vote by mail, so that will help.”