Martha’s Vineyard is remote and difficult to reach, which is part of its unique allure. However, COVID-19 has an all-access ferry pass, can take flight, and will continue to mutate and lounge around this summer. Many of us did not plan on spending a second summer with an uninvited guest, COVID-19, yet here we are. For those fortunate enough to have retained employment through COVID, and who are thus able to take a few weeks off (or a working vacation) this summer, it is time to organize your action plan for a healthy Island respite.
First, understand your family’s situation regarding risk. Are you traveling with family members who are at high risk? Will they be vaccinated before the trip? In a normal year, I am honest and direct with senior relatives (and those seeking to leap off the Jaws Bridge) that our incredible local hospital is not a high-level trauma center. If you have a major emergency, you will likely need to be transported off the Island. Talk with your family and healthcare provider about those in your group (including pets) around specific plans considering their health status, and access to care if needed. Last summer during the pandemic’s surge, our dog Claus had a seizure, and we could not get emergency care for him, so he was ferried off-Island. This summer we will have a better plan.
Second, plan to uphold public health guidelines while on our special Island. From mask wearing to social distancing and testing, I was so impressed with how this contained Island worked hard to keep the year-round residents safe and secure. And we should expect those in charge of our public’s health to stay on top of the evidence and travel guidelines issued by the CDC and highlighted by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. This Island was hit hard economically by the pandemic, and we owe it to those who make a living here (not just vacationing here) to make them feel respected, safe, and valued. No shirt, no shoes, no service is not a big deal, and neither is a mask. And while on the topic, pack sunblock, a bike helmet, mitigate for ticks, order the EpiPens and extra medicine, and click all seat belts. These are small asks in return for enjoying our time together here.
Meanwhile, back out in Aquinnah, my husband refuses to swim out to Dogfish Bar at dusk because of sharks. Is he bad at math? Ironically, no (he is an economist), but it is his fear, so I respect it. Having a plan and respecting the latest guidelines does not mean a summer of fear or perpetual angst. You are officially being given permission to enjoy the summer while recognizing many will be coming from different places on their risk tolerance journey. And some will still have real health risks, as we are not out of the woods yet, with several coronavirus metrics rising in recent weeks, including here on Martha’s Vineyard.
Finally, as you read this, take a deep breath and imagine the salty sea air filling your lungs — the very organ that was under assault this year from the pandemic. Most public health experts agree that you should spend as much time as you can outside, which is easy to do on the Island. Find a moment of gratitude to appreciate your own health. If you have learned anything this year, it is that health is wealth. The beach house, boat ride, and fresh dinner with family are all upsides. Millions have been through so much, including 500,000-plus who lost family members this year. There will be sad stories on our beaches, and many will be coming to the Island to recover. Assume good intentions of your fellow travelers, and be a source of empathy and positivity. COVID may lurk in the background, but it does not have to define us, or ruin what we all hope to be an endless summer on the Island.
Meghan FitzGerald is an associate professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. This year she published the book “Ascending Davos: A Career Journey from the Emergency Room to the Boardroom.” She resides in Aquinnah with her husband and rescue Weimaraners.