The small Island of Cuttyhunk confirmed its eighth positive case of COVID-19 Monday, following its first positive case last Wednesday, sending the remote community into a scramble to contain the virus.
Speaking to The Times by phone Tuesday, Gosnold selectman and board of health member Gail Blout said the eight cases were all young individuals at a party not wearing masks or social distancing. Island officials then began contact tracing.
“Once we got the first positive case, we called and spoke to the individual. We were able to get the direct contact, the first tier … got in touch with them, started that whole process, started the second tier, who were probably at the party, but not near the individual,” Blout said.
While there is no hospital on Cuttyhunk, the Island does have a program where physicians come for a week at a time and see patients who may be sick. They’re also on call for 24 hours during their stay.
On Friday, Cuttyhunk was able to test 25 individuals, with five coming up positive. The other three were tested off-Island.
“We’re working diligently with [Massachusetts Department of Public Health], with state epidemiologists, with the doctor that’s here on-Island now,” Blout said. She’s also contacted state Sen. Julian Cyr to get additional test kits.
In a post on its website Monday, Gosnold board of health wrote the families of the eight positive individuals have been advised to quarantine if they remain on the Island.
Cuttyhunk is part of the town of Gosnold, the seventh town in Dukes County, and least populous town in Massachusetts, which encompasses the Elizabeth Islands northwest of Martha’s Vineyard. The year-round population is roughly 20 to 30 people, and swells to close to 250 in the summer.
“More testing may be available at the end of the week, provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health,” the post states. “Our tests are being fast-tracked due to our fragile community.”
Masks are now mandatory when leaving homes for all residents and visitors on Cuttyhunk.
In addition to mandatory masks outside, the board of health, which is also the board of selectmen, put into place special instructions for those who have tested positive and want to leave the Island.
First, any positive individuals must notify the ferry service. If they choose to leave Cuttyhunk, they must give 24-hour notice to make special arrangements for passage, which include confirmation from the Island doctor there are no active symptoms. Once on the ferry, the individual must wear a full PPE suit and gloves, and sit in a designated cordoned area on the ferry, per U.S. Coast Guard and Centers for Disease Control regulation. PPE suit and gloves will be provided by Cuttyhunk Fire Chief Seth Garfield.
On Friday, the board of health temporarily closed the gas dock to all gatherings, including banning swimming or jumping off the dock, due to individuals not adhering to the town’s requirement for masks on a town landing during the pandemic.
Blout also said there is a market on the Island, but as of Tuesday afternoon it has closed until further notice. Blout said food and goods are usually shipped in on the ferry, and many residents have their own boats, so they can travel to the mainland.
In addition to the market closure, the mail will not be delivered. The New Bedford Post Office provides mail service to Cuttyhunk, but the carrier declined to deliver on Tuesday.
“We don’t know how long that will last,” Blout said in part. “They said they weren’t coming today, so we’re trying to get some more information.”