Dukes County commissioners are sending a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, as well as to state representatives and Gov. Charlie Baker’s office, requesting additional vaccines ahead of the imminent population boom on-Island.
“The hospital has experienced quite a challenging period of time in getting vaccines out, not due to their process, but due to the supply,” commission chair Christine Todd said.
She noted that even as younger people are eligible for the vaccine, many folks in the 55-and-older age group are still having trouble getting an appointment.
Todd said she is concerned about seasonal residents and visitors coming to the Island and not being able to get vaccinated, and noted that this will make it even more difficult for locals to get inoculated.
“We are adding at least 100,000 people to our population in a matter of not even months. When you look at it that way, we are very underserved in the number of vaccines we are receiving,” Todd said. “We have a hospitality industry that is in need of serving the public, as well as restaurants and other seasonal people who need to be protected, along with our citizens.”
Commissioner Peter Wharton said the hospital is working with a population estimate of 19,250 people, with approximately 40 percent of the population having gotten their first dose, and almost 29 percent having received their second dose.
But Wharton warned, with the seasonal increase, those numbers won’t look so promising.
“We should frame this letter around what is to come with the seasonal increase. Those numbers that look good right now won’t look so good when our population goes up by more than four times,” Wharton said.
County approves outdoor dining at Alchemy
Commissioners also approved a request from Alchemy restaurant in Edgartown to use the courthouse lawn for outdoor dining.
Last year, many restaurants began looking for alternative ways to boost their business during the summer season after Gov. Charlie Baker placed stringent restrictions on indoor operations.
Alchemy was able to use the courthouse lawn for outdoor dining during the bulk of the busy season last year, which general manager Jay Kuss said “completely saved the day” for the business.
“With the opportunity available again this year, having the town and hopefully the county’s support, we would love to be able to put the tent back up,” Kuss said.
Alchemy’s goal is to open the outdoor space in May, and close up shop around the end of September, depending on temperature and weather.
Kuss told commissioners there are a few minor changes to the request this time around. First, the restaurant will not be going with the bare lawn (as they did last year), and will instead look into a rollable turf pad that will span the length of the dining tent. “We want to enhance the floor situation. Last year, the lawn was beautiful for the first two weeks we were open, but after that point it got very well-trodden,” Kuss said.
According to Kuss, the turf would not reach outside the tent footprint, and would allow for a neater, more natural feel than putting in a false floor.
“We understand that it’s probably going to really hurt the lawn underneath there,” Kuss said. But he said the restaurant is in the process of receiving bids from various landscaping companies to see what it would cost to resod the entire surface of the lawn, “so it would be restored back to, or even better, than when we started with it.”
Additionally, Kuss said, he is looking to include two tent heaters in his outdoor operation this year.
“These heaters are specifically manufactured for heating tents,” he said, noting that the tents at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and at the TestMV site at the high school use these types of heaters. With the heaters, Kuss explained, the restaurant can stretch its outdoor dining schedule to the shoulder months while keeping customers comfortable.
County manager Martina Thornton said the only thing the county needs to do is amend the license agreement with Alchemy to include the two additions: the rollable turf and the heaters.
She said the county must also put a condition in the agreement that the restaurant will restore the lawn with new sod after operations cease — not just reseed the area.
Alchemy holds all liability in the license agreement, so any issues with the heaters would be covered by the restaurant, Thornton said.
Commissioner Leon Brathwaite asked why the restaurant didn’t choose a false floor for the tent, to which Kuss responded that those types of floors can be slippery when they get wet, adding to potential liability. “It all comes back to liability, it comes back to the actual guest experience for us, that’s why we are opting to use roll-out turf,” Kuss said.
Similar to last year, Kuss said, all furniture and heaters will be brought out after the court is closed in preparation for the shift, then brought inside at the end of the night.
“The tent was such a huge huge help last year, I don’t know if we would have survived otherwise,” Kuss said.
Commissioner Tristan Israel said that in a year or two, if the situation is different and restrictions are loosened, the county should have another conversation with Alchemy to consider whether they want to continue offering outdoor dining, and what that agreement might look like.