Contractor spread imminent, Poole says

Matt Poole, a member of the Chilmark board of health, said Island health officials are concerned that the trades will contribute to community spread of COVID-19.

Updated 1 pm

At an emergency session of Chilmark’s selectmen and board of health Thursday night, solutions to the resurgence of COVID-19 were deliberated for an hour. Board of health member Matt Poole, who is also Edgartown’s health agent, weighed in on some of what he believed has fueled the uptick in COVID-19 cases on-Island. He said interactions outside of work were behind the cluster at Cronig’s Market and the infections at Tony’s Market, not interactions at work. 

“The initial trigger to those events was not in those establishments,” he said. He pointed to “the decisions, the choices that people are making outside of work.” 

Poole said some folks in the contractor community are not talking appropriate precautions, and he expects a contractor uptick shortly. “I think our danger, our risk, is in the trades. It’s absolutely coming,” he said. “By the time we can schedule another meeting, we’re going to have an issue with the trades. That’s pretty much a given.”

Unlike contractors, he said, food service, retail, and schools presently weren’t problematic. Following a meeting with the Martha’s Vineyard Building Association, Poole said he learned job site shutdowns may have the greatest efficacy in curbing scofflaws. He said association members, including “big, established builders,” considered tickets insufficient to motivate contractors to adhere to proper precautions. 

“[A] ticket is not as motivating as shutting a job site down,” he said. “They said if you want to get people’s attention, close a job site.”

One job site closure could be a force multiplier, he suggested. “Word will travel.”

The association’s position was well-received by health agents, he said. “I think we heard that very loud and clear,” he said. “They were very helpful in encouraging us to do what is necessary to motivate compliance. So that was helpful.”

Poole said further, “The builder’s association really felt it was highly important to respond to this strongly. They were fully on board with doing whatever is necessary to keep their job sites operating smoothly and successfully. They did encourage us to do whatever was necessary, including on the enforcement side.”

Talk of job site shutdowns comes following a spring when contractors were shut out of their job sites across the board in an effort to blunt the spread of the virus. Stay-at-home restrictions were also in place. 

Swollen pods

Health board chair Katie Carroll said her board rehired Forrest Filler as assistant health agent to help with enforcement and the dissemination of information. Filler previously worked for the department in the spring.

“He is willing to get back out there and start visiting job sites again,” she said, “and reinforce the regulations that are in place. Because that’s one easy way that we can get the word out — do your best not to ride with somebody in the same vehicle. If you have to, wear gloves. You know, practice good sanitation on your job sites. Social distance.”

Carroll went on to say it will prove an easier task to reach the trades at job site than to “go into somebody’s backyard and say, ‘You shouldn’t have 25 people back here.’”

Selectmen chair Bill Rossi asked if Carroll was considering more stringent gathering restrictions than the governor’s.

Carroll said that wasn’t in the works, and at present the best hedge against risky gatherings may be a strong public service announcement.

“One of the builders had a good idea, I think,” Poole said. “He said it, and it sort of became a slogan over the course of an hour: ‘If it’s not work or school, shut it down.’ And we’re kind of at that point.” Poole said what he meant by “shut it down” was a cessation of things like social events and trips. 

“I talk to a lot of people these days, and they refer to their social group as their pod,” Carroll said. “But everybody’s pod has sort of grown incrementally.”

Carroll said her family pod consists of her family members and one employee at work; by comparison, many folks have much larger pods.

“If you talk to some of these people, their pods are two, three, four, five families of parents and kids that are all getting together because they feel like they’re a tight-knit group. Yet if you think about four or five families, and all the other people that they interact with, their pod is actually really pretty huge. So I think trying to get people to tighten up on who they’re having these engagements with — we’re at that point.”


Hard cases

Beach committee member Margaret Maida asked what was to be done with recalcitrant folks.

“How do you get the message to the people who just really don’t care?” she asked. “They aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, and they’re just going on with their life and going where they want to go. How do you get through to them?”

“That’s a really good question,” Rossi said. “I think that’s been a problem throughout our country.”

Poole said “a lot of time” was spent talking about that problem with the builders association. 

“Some of those people are in a vehicle provided by their employer,” he said. “And you basically hold their employer responsible. You know, when you go into the Harbor View and the dishwasher is not rinsing at the right temperature,” he said, hypothetically, “you don’t hold the dishwasher responsible for his rinse temp; you hold the Harbor View responsible …I f you’ve got a name painted on the door of a truck, it’s that person who’s going to be held responsible for the conduct of the occupants of the vehicle. Not going to capture everybody, but it’s going to cast a net.”

Poole said getting the basic concepts of quarantine and isolation to sink in with some folks hasn’t been easy. Down-Island, he described instances where confirmed positive individuals have been seen getting a car inspected, or shopping.

“You know, that’s not helpful,” he said. “And you know we’ll probably never cause those people to change the way they behave.”

“I do think if we can’t really adjust course here, the possibility of [a] much more stringent response from local government, as far as tightening requirements and shutting down opportunities, is going to have to be a must-do — may be not next step, but pretty soon we’ll be there,” he said.

Poole noted a school system on the North Shore shut down in the face of noncompliance from school families. 

“So schools went fully remote when families basically chose to not comply with the guidelines,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but I think everyone needs to understand, if we don’t all do the right thing and convey that message to our friends and neighbors and everyone else, that we’re going to be there.” 

The two boards later resolved to have public relations specialist Mary Breslauer craft talking points and public service announcements geared to getting folks to refrain from risky behavior and activities. 

Updated to include more details from the joint meeting.