As the one-year anniversary of the Island’s first real impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, we reflect on what’s been a most difficult year. In this issue, we feature some of your stories in a special section, “Voices from the Pandemic,” which looks at the various ways we’ve all been affected — working and learning from home; feeling unwelcome in your second home; and one heart-thumping battle with this insidious and potentially deadly disease that turned out OK.
We have been mostly supportive of Gov. Charlie Baker and how he has handled these difficult times — shutting down schools last spring, and putting restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, setting limits on public gatherings, and limiting out-of-state travel.
There were too many unknowns not to play it safe.
We continue to be disappointed, however, in the governor’s handling of the vaccine distribution. The federal government’s supply issues aside, the governor and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health have consistently botched the rollout with a poorly conceived sign-up process, poor messaging, and in a recent case, by allotting doses to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, pulling back, and then providing a smaller amount over the course of a weekend.
We also find a recent report by the Boston Globe particularly troubling. After nearly 20 years of planning by the state’s health organizations, and millions of dollars spent to prepare for mass vaccinations in the wake of 9/11, Baker abandoned those plans, and instead hired private companies to step in and handle the state’s vaccine program.
And they’ve fumbled it.
“We have been talking about this for 20 years … the state has invested in this,” Dartmouth public health director Christopher Michaud told the Globe. “They took the playbook, threw it in the dumpster, and privatized the whole thing.”
And with no good reason. Our local boards of health, after some initial hiccups, have worked really well at informing the public about COVID-19 testing results with consistent and timely reports, while protecting patient privacy. They’ve also worked, when necessary, to impose more stringent restrictions than those instituted by the state to keep our population safe.
For most of the pandemic, it worked brilliantly, as the Island went nearly eight months with relatively few cases. Island resources like Island Health Care, Martha’s Vineyard Bank, and Quest Diagnostics brought a robust testing site to the Island — at times working outside, many of them volunteers, in the extreme heat or the bitter cold underneath tents. The TestMV site has provided a complement to the testing done by Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, and comfort to those worried about whether they were exposed. And it was Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools that worked with a public-private partnership, again with Martha’s Vineyard Bank playing a leading role, to bring testing to the schools, and boost the confidence of staff and parents that students could return to more in-person instruction.
It’s unfortunate that it took the strong lobby of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, backed by legislators, to shame Baker into moving teachers up on the vaccine pecking order, even after he announced that schools would reopen in April.
And instead of having a certain day for teachers to get vaccinated, Baker threw them into the pot with the 65-plus population and those with two or more health conditions, whom we’re still trying to get fully vaccinated, creating even more chaos in the state’s overburdened system. All the while, Baker’s plan ignores that teachers are already working from their classrooms doing hybrid instruction, and have limited hours when they can go get a shot. Fortunately, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital leadership is working with school officials to provide dedicated clinic days for teachers on the Island.
Gov. Baker, it’s the fourth quarter of the pandemic (we hope), and you had a brilliant first half, but have fumbled and bumbled your way through the third quarter. Let’s hope you pull it together in the fourth quarter, and get us safely over the goal line.
To those of you who have worked on the frontlines of this pandemic, we offer our gratitude — healthcare workers, public safety officials, supermarket workers, and all the others who put yourselves at risk every day to keep us safe. Yes, there have been mistakes along the way, but there have also been good decisions that protected the public without panicking us in the process.
It’s been a long, strange year, and it’s not over. Vigilance — and mask wearing — to the end is important. But we’ll get through the next few months just like we did the first 12 — together while safely apart.