Updated Feb. 9
The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital reported the Island’s first COVID-related death Tuesday.
Albert Hutchinson, 78, of Chilmark passed away this morning, according to an email from hospital communications specialist Marissa Lefebvre.
“Our thoughts are with Mr. Hutchinson’s family,” Lefebvre said.
The hospital declined to comment on Hutchinson’s vaccination status.
“We are saddened by yesterday’s news of the passing of Mr. Albert Hutchinson,” hospital president and CEO Denise Schepici said in a statement Wednesday. “The COVID virus has afflicted so much pain and suffering on so many lives in such unbearable ways. Our staff and our community have worked tirelessly to fight this epic pandemic and while it is one death, it is one death too many. In this time of sorrow, we offer our condolences to Mr. Hutchinson’s family.”
Speaking to The Times by phone, Hutchinson’s niece Rebecca Walsh said he was the best brother and uncle in the world.
“He was just wonderful, he was a musician, he was a carpenter, he was a chef, he had an enormous personality. He was a larger than life figure,” Walsh said.
She said Hutchinson led a full life, he once owned a company that restored Jaguar cars, was a lifelong vegetarian, and a renaissance man.
“He was a tremendous force for good,” she said.
Issac Taylor, who had known Albert for the past 20 plus years, said he knew Hutchinson through his love of music. “He was really patient, had a great sense of humor, so knowledgeable about music history and theory and a really great guitar player,” Taylor said.
Richard Skidmore said Hutchinson went by many names — Hutch, Albort, Albit, Bort, Albrecht, and Alb.
“He moved from Boston to NYC, and I met him in 1967 on the Lower East Side in NYC at a graphic design studio that art directed the ‘National Lampoon’ and also published comics such as All Duck Funnies— it was our clubhouse and an excellent milieu for his formative years. He was featured in several photo novellas and did some voicing for the cartoon Fritz The Cat,” Skidmore said.
He added that Hutchinson’s friendships were “soulfully deep” and he established himself on the Vineyard as a handyman and musician.
“He was a connoisseur of humor and food, and his dinner parties featuring Vindaloo were renowned for the scalding heat of his signature dish and the hilarity he welcomed and provoked,” Skidmore said.
Chilmark select board member Bill Rossi said it was sad to hear of Hutchinson’s death. “It’s sad to know that someone from the Island has lost their life due to COVID-19,” Rossi said. “That’s definitely sad news.”
Edgartown health agent Matt Poole, who is filling the role of Martha’s Vineyard boards of health spokesperson, gave his condolences to Hutchinson’s family. “Any loss of life, even one, is super unfortunate,” he said. “It serves as a costly reminder of the fact that we need to continue to make good decisions about who we associate with, what we know about them, where we go in public.”
He added that masking and getting vaccinated is extremely important to help prevent the spread of COVID.
The Island’s first death comes nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and as the weekly total of new cases on the Island have declined since their all-time highs last month.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 21,811 people have died across the state due to COVID-19. There have been 903,038 deaths across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Last month the hospital also confirmed the presence of the omicron variant on the Island after samples were tested by the state epidemiologist lab.
The Baker administration will lift the statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools on Feb. 28, becoming another in a handful of states across the country that have made similar announcements. “It’s time to give our kids a sense of normalcy and lift the mask mandate on a statewide basis for schools,” Baker said. “We understand many students will choose to continue to wear masks going forward for a number of reasons and we fully support those individual decisions and we would urge everyone in K through 12 education to do the same.”
Baker doubled down on his position, saying schools are safe for children. “We’ve learned a lot about how safe schools are and how to keep kids in class learning over the course of this pandemic and we have far more tools available to us to deal with this pandemic than back at the beginning,” Baker said. “School settings are very rarely sources of COVID transmission.”
Masks will still be required on school buses per federal orders.
In an email to The Times after the announcement, Poole said the Island’s health boards will consider the status of local mask mandates. He said Edgartown was set to discuss masks in schools at a March 9 meeting in anticipation of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reconsideration of the mandate and when Island students would return to school after February break.
“Whether the local mandate governs the schools when DESE rescinds has not been previously discussed, but has not been established by the towns,” Poole said. “I suspect this announcement from the state will trigger a broad discussion about local mask mandates but, today, how that will unfold is still to be determined. Each of the towns has early March board of health meetings scheduled and the question could be taken up independently in each town or there could be a single jointly posted meeting. We will know more about the process for consideration later in the month.”
Updated with additional information. — Ed.