A story in Friday’s Boston Globe about the number of COVID-19 cases on Martha’s Vineyard and, specifically, the lack of hospitalizations and deaths, set off a Twitter storm over the Memorial Day weekend.
The Globe story quoted an epidemiologist, Michael A. Stoto, with the headline: “Harvard epidemiologist considers how Martha’s Vineyard has managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic.” Essentially, it’s a case of finding the cases, catching them early, and treating them, he told the Globe. “There haven’t been that many cases that have required hospitalizations — far fewer than you’d expect, given our numbers,” Stoto was quoted as saying.
The Globe story came as Tisbury remains the only town in the commonwealth in the red for being most at risk for COVID transmission, according to state data. It also comes as the Island saw a modest uptick in cases two weeks ago. Still, the premise of the Globe story is correct. The Island went through long stretches of the pandemic with a low number of cases, few hospitalizations, and zero deaths on-Island.
A person with the Twitter handle @Shocks got things rolling when he tweeted the Globe story with the comment: “Is the answer money.”
Is the answer money pic.twitter.com/XY5zZa0MaN
— shocks (@shocks) May 29, 2021
He asked a question (despite the lack of a question mark on his tweet), and got a tweet storm in response, including from county commissioner and Edgartown resident Keith Chatinover.
“No, the answer is we didn’t avoid the pandemic, and indeed it’s a miracle none of our hundreds of cases resulted in a documented death,” Chatinover wrote. “And again, I guess I have to remind y’all that year-round islanders ≠ rich summer tourists.”
Reached Tuesday, Chatinover said it’s a common refrain from people who see the Vineyard from afar. He deals with a fair amount of it as a college student at Middlebury in Vermont.
“It’s populated with kids who only know the Vineyard as a summer place,” he said. “They’re either going to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket for the summer.”
No, the answer is we didn’t avoid the pandemic and indeed it’s a miracle none of our hundreds of cases resulted in a documented death. And again, I guess I have to remind y’all that year round islanders =/= rich summer tourists. https://t.co/IKZI4zFKWP
— Keith Chatinover (@kchat2000) May 29, 2021
The Vineyard is indeed the summer home of some celebrities, and former President Barack Obama has a place in Katama, but it’s not all about the rich and famous on the Island.
“It’s a big misconception,” Chatinover said. “The reason I retweeted it twice and made it clear how I felt is that it’s dangerous when people have those misconceptions and we don’t get the help we need.”
Chatinover wasn’t alone. Shocks’ tweet got nearly 2,500 retweets, and nearly 41,000 likes.
There were some who agreed with what Chatinover described as the misconceptions. “Affluent people there aren’t having to work ‘essential’ jobs in public spaces and take public transport to work just to pay their bills, and can’t work from home/their yacht/the beach house.” @407Scouse wrote. “Is that it? Am I close?”
Others used stats to show how tone-deaf the tweet by Shocks was.
Zivah Solomon, who handles social media for the Coalition to Create a Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank, an organization whose very meaning is to try to find a way to solve the Island’s affordable housing crisis, tweeted under the organization’s Twitter handle @CCMVHB to demonstrate just how wrong the tweet was about the Island and its demographics.
“Hi, coalition of Martha’s Vineyard residents fighting for affordable housing here. A lot of folks seem to be under the impression that M.V. is mostly ultrawealthy residents and does not face wage crises or disparities. We’d like to dispel some of that!” she tweeted.
Hi, coalition of Martha’s Vineyard residents fighting for affordable housing here. A lot of folks seems to be under the impression that MV is mostly ultra wealthy residents and does not face wage crises or disparities. We’d like to dispel some of that! ⬇️ https://t.co/kILIgpV7k5
— Coalition to Create the MV Housing Bank (@CCMVHB) May 30, 2021
In a thread of tweets, Solomon then provided some facts to the conversation. “There is currently a $781,500 gap between what an average island family can afford and the median home sale price of $1.15 million in 2020,” she wrote.
“Despite this person cheekily saying “Is the answer money” in response to saying that Martha’s Vineyard avoided the ‘worst’ of the pandemic, it might be good to know that: Island rents are 30 percent ABOVE the state median, while Island wages are 27 below BELOW the state median,” she added in another tweet.
In an email to The Times, Solomon wrote that she saw the exchange as an opportunity to set the record straight. “I saw the tweet thread as an opportunity to respectfully engage and shed some light on the realities of living on Martha’s Vineyard. There is a lot of wealth that exists on this Island. It is entirely true that proximity to it does provide the Island and its residents with a level of privilege that many other communities did not face during the pandemic,” she wrote. “However, there is a lot more to the story than looking at lack of fatalities. The Island experienced minor community spread from overpacked housing. People who lost their jobs and consistent work could not afford their rising rents. The pandemic has exacerbated a long-existing crisis. There is a narrative and misconception on what it is like to live on an island like Martha’s Vineyard.
“This narrative also ignores the longstanding injustices Black, brown, and indigenous communities like the Aquinnah and Chappaquiddick Wampanoag have faced when it comes to not being able to afford to live on their native lands DUE to the wealth that accumulates on the Island. We are lucky to have had an Island-wide testing site — this is in part because of the proximity to the wealth that flows through the Island — and indebted to the Island healthcare workers who worked tirelessly to contact, trace, identify, and keep track of the spread. To boil that down to ‘is it money’ when it comes to looking at lack of fatalities ignores the longstanding crises in the face of this wealth, and as a coalition fighting to bring truly affordable long-term housing to the Island, it is our job to highlight the facts.”
There was a fair amount of back and forth on the thread — probably because there were more people on social media, with the weekend’s dismal weather.
Phil Lutazzi tried to put the issue in perspective with his response to the tweet: “Stating the obvious, M.V. is an Island with a year-round population of around 15,000. Biggest factor is that people were actually respectful.”
Stating the obvious MV is an island with a year round population of around 15,000. Biggest factor is that people were actually respectful.
— Phil Luttazi (@phil_luttazi) May 29, 2021