Cronig’s stays closed as case total reaches 10

Thursday next target date for reopening.

The inside of Cronig's was quiet Monday morning. The store remains closed because of a COVID-19 cluster. - Rich Saltzberg

Updated Nov. 9

Cronig’s planned to reopen Monday Nov. 9, but after a ninth employee tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, the store remained closed on Monday morning. Meanwhile, Monday brought news of another positive employee, bringing the total to 10 people. Store supervisor Norma Blidgen said Thursday is when the store next plans to reopen. Bligden said of the 10 positive employees, none have been debilitated by the virus and one is asymptomatic.

Speaking to The Times by phone Sunday, Cronig’s owner Steve Bernier cases had risen among his employees.

“We are now up to nine positive cases in the store,” Bernier said. “My apologies to the customers we’re here to serve.”

The ninth confirmed case of the store’s employees comes only days after Cronig’s reported having had two employees test positive on Thursday

The group of cases at Cronig’s is now being labeled a cluster, according to boards of health spokesperson and Tisbury health agent Maura Valley.

“We’re working with Steve Bernier on this situation, which is now considered a cluster. We continue with our contact tracing and working with Steve to ensure that all store employees are tested,” Valley wrote in an email to The Times.

The Cronig’s cluster is now the second cluster the Island has seen since the pandemic began. The first cluster was linked to a wedding over the long weekend in October.

Tisbury health board member Michael Loberg told The Times Monday the board has worked very closely with Bernier and been impressed with what he’s done.

Nevertheless, the uptick is difficult news. “Yes, I am discouraged by it,” he said.

The nation has entered a new phase of the pandemic, he said, and that phase has reached the Vineyard. 

“The fact that they’re experiencing this now,” he said of Cronig’s and its employees, “is not a hallmark of their laxness. It’s a sign of a changing Island landscape.”

Consistently, Loberg said Cronig’s has exercised best practices in the face of the pandemic. 

“It’s a tough thing for all those at Cronig’s that work so hard to provide an essential service,” he said. 

Islanders, he noted, need to be even more diligent about mask wearing and social distancing and participating in contact tracing. “We all cannot let our guard down and we have to be ever-more diligent to our personal practices,” he said. 

He made special note of the efforts of Valley and the Vineyard’s other health agents.

“The Island-wide health agents are spectacular,” he said, describing them as stepping up to the challenge. 

“They’ve got a very full plate,” he said, but are getting the work done. 

Before knowledge of a 10th positive employee,  Bernier said he was taking it one day at a time.

“We will open when we understand things better,” Bernier said. “There can be no other plan.”

He added that he was “totally saddened” by the growing number of cases and is continuing to clean and sanitize the store. About 25 employees are being tested. The store employs between 50 and 60 people.

The rise in cases at Cronig’s comes as the Island has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks. On Friday, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital reported five new cases, bringing the total new cases to 33 since Oct. 26. These 33 cases in the past 13 days make up 27 percent of the Island’s now total 121 confirmed cases. The other 73 percent of cases were reported over the course of eight months, when testing began back in March.

Updated to add reporting about another positive case and comments from a Cronig’s staffer and a Tisbury health board member.