Vaccination question lurks at Howes House

Allegation staffers may not be vaccinated triggers board agenda item.

West Tisbury select board members hear a complaint about Howe's House. -Rich Saltzberg

Susan Silk came before the West Tisbury select board Wednesday evening with allegations that Up-Island Council on Aging staff, specifically at the Howes House, aren’t vaccinated. Silk told the board the alleged lack of vaccination has necessitated masks for all in the building. She argued that was detrimental to many seniors’ health and well-being.

The meeting, which was held in the West Tisbury Free Public Library, was the first in-person meeting the board has held since the dawn of the pandemic. Select board chair Skipper Manter opted to quash substantive debate on the subject, because the item was not on the agenda. It was lightly taken up, as an item that couldn’t have been reasonably anticipated by the chair. The subject was slated for the next select board meeting. Nevertheless, Silk made her case to the board.

Silk said she told health agent Omar Johnson that Howes House staff had not been vaccinated, and did not intend to be vaccinated. “He told me he’d have to talk to town counsel and get back to me,” she said. “He said it would take him a couple of days to get back to me.”

When Johnson finally got back to her, she said, he hadn’t contacted town counsel, and said the town doesn’t have a vaccination policy. 

Johnson later confirmed the conversations with The Times. He said he consulted with the town administrator in lieu of town counsel, and learned vaccinations could be mandated but haven’t been. “That has not been adopted by the town,” he said.

Silk told the board the mask rule in the Howes House will cause seniors not to participate in Up-Island Council on Aging programs. 

“Exercise and wearing a mask isn’t smart and isn’t safe,” she said. “And the rationale for playing mah jong and bridge is socializing, chatting, smiling. I’m sure that every service the center provides is trying to fulfill these same customer needs.”

In an email to Silk obtained by The Times, Up-Island Council on Aging staffer Diana Braillard wrote that most programs will restart July 6. 

“We do have some restrictions due to the building space and size,” Braillard wrote. “In our main dining room, we are allowed 12 people, downstairs 10-12, and the sunroom, as you know, can fit 6-8. We are also requiring masks in the building, as we want to be safe with our reopening. As the summer progresses, we may be able to allow more folks and ease up on some requirements, but we will have to play that by ear. We are reaching out to be sure groups want to continue in their prepandemic time slots on our calendar.”

Silk later said she’s been part of a group of 13 women who have been playing mah jong at Chef Deon’s in Oak Bluffs, and may continue to do so. She said she took serious issue with the idea of unvaccinated staffers at Howes House, and accused staffers of abandoning their responsibility to seniors. “Where is your sense of responsibility to them, if it’s true?” she said. “They have a right not to be vaccinated, but I think they should be.”

Johnson said vaccination choices and policy are of issue across the country, and may be the subject of complex litigation in places like Texas.

Joyce Albertine, longtime director of the up-Island Council on Aging, said vaccination information is private, and declined to disclose anything about it.

“I can’t divulge anybody’s personal information,” Albrtine said. “There’s no mandate,” she said about staff vaccinations.

“If we’re going to learn anything about the pandemic,” Silk told The Times, “it’s stuff like this that we should be thinking about.”

In other business, following a brief joint session of the library trustees and the select board, both bodies unanimously appointed Emily Fischer as a library trustee. 


  1. Yes, people can’t be forced not to be selfish, stupid, and irresponsible. Just ask all the anti vaxers on the island. For sure, any healthy person working around the elderly who refuses the covid vaccine proves their ignorance, selfishness and lack of civic duty, especially toward the people they are around.
    That’s some health agent when their priority isn’t, you know, HEALTH within the community. And using Texas as an example to excuse selfish staff from vaccines? Everyday we see people exercising their right to be stupid, selfish and irresponsible.
    Thank you Susan Silk for having the courage to speak up. And thank you MVTimes for covering this.

    • Annie– I doubt you would think it “gossip” if a family member of yours contracted a potentially fatal disease while being cared for by negligent people.

      • Did someone? Please, you are responsible for YOURSELF. If you’re afraid of covid or at high risk, get the jab. Stop taking other people’s inventory!

        • Decent, responsible people show responsibility toward others as well as themselves. Do you know why the “Am-I-my-brother’s-keeper” response is the epitome of evil?

    • Curious why you say that. Issues brought to the attention of the selectboard generally aren’t considered “gossip.” The Times is reporting something that happened at an official meeting. How is that “stirring it up”?

  2. When you work in the health field, there are requirements for vaccinations. When you go to school/college, there are requirements for vaccinations.

    Jobs can require a vaccine for you to be employed.

    The people refusing vaccines have more than likely had other vaccinations in their lives.

    Just facts.

  3. If the council on ageing can’t get it’s employees to get vaccinated they should shut down.
    If I had an elderly relative in the program that got covid because of the stupid irresponsible behavior of staff persons there, I would sue the pants off the council on aging. If the council is unable to get irresponsible people to get vaccinated, and they do not feel comfortable terminating them . they should not open to in person programs. To do so is totally irresponsible and in my opinion recklessly negligent in their duty to protect their clients.
    I am shocked that there is even a question.
    My advice is to fire the irresponsible idiots, and face the lawsuits for wrongful termination, rather than open in person programs and face the lawsuits for wrongful death.

  4. Regarding the west Tisbury Senior center’s employees not being vaccinated…
    They need to be placed on leave without pay until they adhere to the health mandates.
    This is a health issue as well as a basic intelligence issue!!!
    They are playing with our lives !!
    They should be placed in quarantine.
    This is outrageous!!

  5. It’s bad enough that the up-island school district has the lowest rate of child vacinations in the entire state. Now we are putting seniors at risk as well. Leave without pay until vaccinated. There’s no responsible alternative. Have some guts, select board.

  6. Of the first 9 comments about this article, 8 are wondering why this is even a question.
    One claims “gossip” .
    I would like to hear from anyone, especially an unvaccinated health care worker, why an unvaccinated person should be anywhere near elderly people in a setting that the town has some liability for.

    • Don, we won’t hear from any local unvaccinated health care workers— no one using their real name, anyway. They’re too afraid of the vaccine and too afraid to publicly say so. The irony is that the anti-maskers and anti-vaxers who were calling everyone else taking precautions afraid of a “flu” and were furious at the mandates and restrictions, told us if we were so scared we should stay at home and hide and let them get on with their lives. Maybe we will hear from a supposed vaccinated person trying to stick up for an unvaxed healthcare worker, but I doubt it. I suspect that anyone who objects to why this story is news and important is part of the conspiracy, anti-vaccine culture.

  7. I think the staffers who choose not to get vaccinated should exercise their freedom to look for another job, preferably one in which they are not exposing vulnerable populations.

  8. Thank you Susan for bringing up this issue. According to State data, less than 60% of West Tisbury residents have received at least their first vaccination. This means that the chance of encountering an infected individual in this town is fairly high. For the elderly, in particular, this could be fatal. I realize that in Texas, they don’t really care about the elderly (one of their officials, early on, indicated that they should be deliberately infected to produce herd immunity), but I thought we were living in a more enlightened place. If anyone believes it’s their right to be unvaccinated or wear a mask, I suggest they move to the Confederacy. Apparently those States are more concerned with preventing people from voting than getting sick.

    • You couldn’t be more wrong. Massachusetts failed to focus on the elderly and thus are number 3 in the country of deaths per capita from Covid. Texas ranks # 25 and Florida # 27. The smugness of your “enlightened place” comment is disgusting.

      • John–thank you for citing some accurate statistics.
        Also thank you Ted for the comment about us living in a more enlightened place– that’s pretty obvious.
        Nothing “smug” about Ted’s comment , John .

  9. In my opinion, Ms. Albertine is hiding behind the concept of medical privacy. When she says that there is no mandate about staff vaccinations, as director of Howes House, doesn’t she have responsibility to establish such a mandate and not just throw up her hands and in effect say “Its not my problem.” Can’t she get together with the Public Health people and the Select- persons and figure out what an appropriate and legal policy ought to be? I’m betting that for public health reasons, there is a substantial legal basis and precedent for Howe’s House to require its staff to be vaccinated to protect the elderly whom they were established to serve. If Ms Albertine is unwilling to go that distance, she ought to resign. And the Select people should step up and act decisively on the issue.

  10. Before the pandemic, I used to get my coffee mug refilled at Ally’s for my morning drive to work. When the pandemic hit I was informed that
    1) I could not get my own mug refilled.
    2) I was given sugar in a packet, and cream in one of those little containers. — The little
    containers have about as much plastic as a dreaded banned straw, by the way.
    3) I was told that I could not open either the sugar packet or the cream container in the
    store, because they would not allow any trash that had touched a customers hand in their
    4) There was no flat surface (except the floor) or a trash receptacle on the porch, so I
    had to put cream and sugar in my coffee on the hood of my car –or in the car if it was
    raining. –I have a mini cooper–
    5) I stopped buying coffee there.

    Rules dictated directly by Mr. Johnson, they said.

    So now we have this…. I pose this question directly to Mr. Johnson; How exactly did any of those ridiculous rules about handling coffee in Alley’s keep me or anyone else safe from covid ? You imposed these meaningless rules, and now you have the audacity to say that the town does not have a “policy” about potentially infected health care workers ? Did you go to the town council before you mandated rules about coffee that gave the covid deniers fuel to mock such meaningless infringements on our ” freedom”?
    I can’t believe you allow unvaccinated health care workers to risk infecting our most vulnerable citizens.
    Come on man, do your job.

  11. It’s over folks. I feel sorry for all the double masking virtual signaling science deniers driving alone in their cars with masks hoping we’d all see how virtuous they were but honestly, you are idiots.

    • It’s not over—for the unvaccinated or those still vulnerable, like children and immune suppressed, and for those young, covid-recovered, formerly healthy people left with new and chronic illnesses. Saying “It’s over” is a lie.

      The issue is that unvaccinated staff at Howes House are a danger to those at risk. Why won’t they be responsible and get a vaccine? I looked at the FB page of someone objecting to this news story. They have posted “The media is the virus” and “Biden didn’t win”. John, your concern over who the real idiots are is misplaced.

    • John– You may think they are idiots, but they are still alive.
      The 7 day running average for deaths due to covid in the U.S on June 20 2021 was 291.
      Not a single one of the 2037 people who died last week was a double masked fully vaccinated “idiot”.
      My guess is that most of them thought the pandemic was over.
      Honestly, John, you don’t have to be too much brighter than your average “idiot” to figure out who the idiots actually are.

      • Mr Keller wants all Covid cases to go away. All. He never counted car accidents or suicides or pneumonia deaths or any specific deaths in the past but now he is obsessed with the fragility of life when most of us are relieved that the pandemic is finished.

        • Andrew–A few months ago you were telling everyone that I didn’t want the pandemic to end, for some reason that you never quite explained. make up your mind please…
          Why wouldn’t any rational person want all cases to “go away”?
          It seems that you are implying that you want some people to suffer from this.. Just exactly what you have repeatedly claimed the “liberals” wanted. Why do you want people to get covid ?
          No one here has ever expressed a desire for this to continue, but right here you are saying that you want it to continue.
          I guess the fact that 2037 people died in America last week is acceptable to you ?
          And by the way– I have on many occasions talked about the death rates from various things that you seem to think are important. let me repeat :
          130 suicides per day in the u.s
          100 drug overdoses per day
          Of the 230 people who die from those 2, you would certainly say that every one of those deaths were by choice.
          covid deaths — 291— none of them chose to contract covid..
          what would you have us do about deaths by accidents ?

          • Mr Keller you cant seem to grasp a holistic concept. The pandemic is for all practical purposes over and people want freedom from 15 months of lockdown. To point out the exceptions when 150million are vaccinated and cases have declined like a stone in water is to obfuscate and grind away at minutiae in order to make some arcane point. People have had enough, they want to breathe again but you and Diez want to agonize and strangle any optimism.

    • Dear John Axel,
      You apparently are not aware of the very real problem of vaccination failure among people being treated for inflammatory and auto-immune disease, cancer, organ transplant and other issues. So yes, there are lots of people out here who got the shot and still are not immune. It’s a real problem that deserves compassion and understanding, not name calling. It’s not science denying or virtue signaling. It’s about life or death. It may be over for you, but for someone without immunity, Covid is still a very real thing.

  12. West Tisbury taxpayers fund $275,000 in Council on Aging personal services (salaries and benefits) and $21,000 in operating expenses. It’s time for a policy.

  13. Most of these comments belong in the Chinese Communist party newspapers, not in the USA.
    It is a sad day for this country when others want to throw our God given Liberties into the trash.

    • Eric– let me quote the declaration of independence :
      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”
      so let me ask ask you this. Is your right to liberty– to not get vaccinated and potentially expose vulnerable citizens to a deadly disease more important or more constitutionally protected than another person’s right to life ?
      And what about the “pursuit of happiness “, as declared in this document.
      The Howes House provides many services that clearly fall into the realm of the pursuit of happiness for the clients involved.
      Do you think they and their providers do not know the risk of an infected person in their midst? Do you think THEY should have to be vaccinated to participate in a program that may bring them some “happiness” ? Some of these elderly people may not be able to get vaccinated for medical reasons. And what about ‘breakout cases” ? To listen to the propogandist on fox “news” you would think this more common than murders in Chicago.
      Should the clients at the Howes House be denied their right to life and the pursuit of happiness because someone has bought into some conspiracy theory and / or could care less about the lives of elderly people? And let me stress that some people may suffer anxiety at the very thought of an unvaccinated worker. Do they not have that right ?
      Read Andrew’s comments about covid here if you want a conservative opinion about the value of the lives of the elderly and infirm.
      You are sadly mistaken if you think comments intended to protect the lives and quality of life of vulnerable Americans is akin to Chinese propaganda .
      Protecting the vulnerable is among the highest values of American society.

    • With rights come responsibilities. The health and well-being of others, as well as ourselves, dictates that, if an institution (such as a workplace or school) embraces policies we cannot follow, that we step aside for the good of the whole.

    • God didn’t give us liberties, our ancestors fought for them. Leave God out this conversation.

  14. First, since when does refusing to compromise a co-worker’s right to privacy translate to irresponsible behavior? Second, has anyone got any actual proof that anyone working for Howes House is NOT vaccinated?? These women are caring responsible people. I would bet you dollars to donuts they ARE all vaccinated. In any case it would be nice if there were some facts to back up all the indignation and name calling, but I don’t hear one shred of evidence that anyone has been irresponsible or is putting any one of us at risk. And I don’t hear anyone complaining about the Hospital not having a vaccination policy as a condition of employment…

  15. Yes, the person in charge of Howes House needs to find out who is vaccinated and who isn’t. It’s not necessary for it to be public knowledge BUT it can be a requirement to maintain employment.

  16. Before we all show up at the Howes House with pitch forks, it should be noted that the woman who lodged the complaint, in a letter to the editor, herself called her accusation a rumor. Yes, it’s just a rumor, according to the woman who started it.

    And she continued to note what is likely behind this rumor spreading. She objects to the Howes House policy requiring masks inside. Sorry, but elderly immune systems are not always up to snuff and people in that cohort carry lots of medical issues that leave them extremely vulnerable to Covid. I say kudos to Joyce and the rest of the staff for refusing to bow to pressure and adopting policies that keep all of the Howes House patrons safe, not just the healthiest ones.

  17. The pandemic is not over. We still have a lot to learn about the new strains of this deadly disease, the various vaccinations and their degrees of efficacy and duration. Wearing a mask is still prudent protection–especially in our senior centers. Get the facts about this issue and story and I am quite confident the right decisions have and will continue to be made for the benefit of the senior center patrons and staff. Follow the science.

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