Boards of health suspend mask mandate

Businesses, public buildings given choice to enact own requirements. 

Signs like this one on Leslie's Pharmacy in Vineyard Haven could soon be taken down, as the Island boards of health have lifted the mask mandate indoors. — George Brennan

The Island boards of health lifted the Island’s indoor mask mandate, following a vote from each board during a joint meeting Wednesday, but businesses will still have a choice to enact their own mask requirements.

The suspension went into effect immediately, following separate votes from each Island board of health during a Zoom meeting that had more than 150 participants. Island schools, which are on vacation this week, had lifted their mask requirements based on the vote of the Island health boards. That means when students return on Monday, they’ll be returning to classrooms where they won’t be required to wear masks.

Masks are still required by federal mandate on public transportation at least through March 18. Masking is also still required as part of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health isolation and quarantine guidance.

The boards of health vote did leave the door open to reinstate the mask mandate should case numbers rise, and reach high-risk categories outlined by the Centers for Disease Control. 

Chilmark board of health member and Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said the Island would look at reinstating its mask mandate if Dukes County becomes high-risk. Risk levels for the Island are based on whether there are more than or fewer than 41 cases in a seven-day period, and how many hospitalizations there have been in that period.

The chart shows the risk categories for the Island.

The 41 cases is based on the Vineyard’s year-round population of 20,600, which is about one-fifth of the CDC’s 200 cases per 100,000 population threshold. “As the summer population changes, we will adjust our number of 41, still using 200 per 200,000 as the basis,” Poole said. 

The Island has not reported any new cases in the past three days. The Island’s seven-day PCR test case total as of Tuesday is 10 cases.

Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said they are working with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on population numbers for the summer.

Valley said the Island boards of health are working on a way to keep up-to-date information on seven-day case rates and hospitalizations available online, but the information can be found on the CDC website.

Edgartown board of health member Meegan Lancaster said the mask mandate is tied to CDC guidance, allowing for businesses to decide if they would like people to mask or not. “If certain enterprises want to be more restrictive, they can be more restrictive,” she said.

A decision to lift the mandate on Saturday, after collecting more off-Island data about case numbers, was discarded, and the boards instead decided to institute the lifted mandate immediately.

Despite having the mandate lifted, several members of the public were still critical of the boards of health decision to follow CDC guidelines.

Kim Murphy said the board of health no longer has the power to tell Americans what they can do with their bodies.

“If masks were so widely used, why did the virus escalate so quickly?” she said. “There is no evidence at this time the mandate reduced the spread. Regardless, we are Americans and we have the freedom to choose. Don’t add any law, or mandate, or whatever, that says, ‘We’ll make it an option.’ This is America, we are free. It’s time to end.”

Lara Maciel said masks were ridiculous, and she hasn’t worn a mask in the past six months: “It’s time to lift the mandate.”

Keith Bassett said Island constituents voted for the health board members, not the CDC. “I don’t understand why you all seem to worship the CDC and everything they are putting out,” Bassett said. “As leaders, I’m really hoping you’ll start to look at other information and real science, not from the CDC.”

Several speakers praised the Island boards of health for instituting the mask mandates in the first place. “Thank you to this board. You have made tremendous decisions over the past two years, and you have kept us safe,” Oak Bluffs library director Allyson Malik said.

The Island boards of health voted in November to continue an indoor mask mandate on the Vineyard to ensure COVID cases did not rise during the holiday season. Dr. Michael Stoto, an epidemiologist and professor at Georgetown University, and Dr. Henry Neider, who practices family medicine in Oak Bluffs, were brought in at the time to present facts about COVID to the audience. 

Following that decision, there was a sharp rise in COVID cases, with the highest count of 490 new cases in January, as the omicron variant raged across the country. The Island also had several hospitalizations, and its first death attributed to COVID. However, in recent weeks Island cases have plummeted. The Martha’s Vineyard boards of health reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 last week, a two-case rise from the previous week, but still a sharp decrease from the number of cases the Island was seeing a month earlier.

Of the new cases, five were reported from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, three from TestMV, six from other PCR tests, and 16 from over-the-counter and antigen tests.

Health officials are monitoring seven of the new cases, and 23 are no longer being followed. There were 22 symptomatic cases, four with no symptoms, and four with unknown symptoms. 

The new cases consisted of 13 people with booster shots, 12 with either two Moderna or Pfizer shots or one Johnson & Johnson shot, and five unvaccinated.

Of the new cases, eight were aged 10 and younger, five between the ages of 11 and 19, one in their 20s, seven in their 30s, two in their 40s, three in their 50s, two in their 60s, and two in their 70s.


  1. Can’t believe I need to thank the Boards of Health for finally exercising some common sense! Let us make our own informed and responsible choices! Mental health will be on the uptick for once!

    • Many people don’t realize it, but they thrive on being told what to do and following. Provides purpose. I don’t mind being told what to do, but that doesn’t mean I will follow if I support the idea.

      • Mike — I am a Navy veteran — Anyone who has served in the military knows about being told what to do. — When ,how fast, what color and how high.
        Civilian life is quite different.
        Most people don’t thrive on being told what to do.

        • Don,
          I think I disagree with you on all your politics and mists of your posts however I will always respect your service to this country, and for that I thank you.

    • Not really, we don’t enjoy wearing masks either but the situation dictated it. I am glad they removed the mandate and probably won’t be wearing a mask in most situations but probably will in others. Fingers crossed we don’t get another variant but if we do I hope all you deniers will accept what the scientific community recommends we do to combat it. I just hope the numbers continue to stay low.

  2. Let’s hold off on the end zone dances for a moment and remember the almost one million Americans who have died from COVID19. And I hope those who for their own reasons decide to continue masking, will have their ‘freedom’ respected.

    • Thank you, Chip. It is crucial to be completely respectful of anybody who chooses to wear a mask. We cannot judge their personal risk calculation. We do not know if they are sick, or if they have someone at home they are caring for who would be in serious trouble if they got this, or got the flu, or got any other respiratory illness– NO JUDGEMENT! People wear a mask to reduce risk, not to make a political statement. They have that right.

    • Chip, we ”covid deniers” never once disrespected those who wanted to wear a mask. Their ”freedom” as you say was always respected. On the contrary, it was the mask wearers who didnt respect the non wearers and vilified them. Get it right.

      • Engelman, are you familiar with the expression, “If you tell the truth you don’t need a good memory”? Was relentless bragging about traveling and being unmasked in large gatherings early on in the pandemic during shutdowns not considered disrespectful?

      • Andy–Good one– finally, you are at least trying to develop some sort of sense of humor. LOL !
        I think this guy falls into the category of who you refer to as “we” :
        I really like the t shirt…

        but if you want a more recent, local example of disrespect , let’s just scroll up this page all the way back to March 2 2022–
        “Many tears will be shed by the loony Covidians!”
        “Go easy on them- they are likely in a state of shock and grief. Q”

        I guess in the “alternate” reality of nut case politics, referring to a group of people as “looney” shows the utmost respect for them–
        I at least know that referring to a group of people as “nut cases” is disrespectful. And if I haven’t been clear in the past, I have little respect for nut cases..

  3. I’ll take my guidance from the CDC. Not some master of right wing propaganda making a fortune off of the ignorance of the willfully ignorant masses.
    Sorry, but I have never wanted masks to be mandatory or even necessary . However, because of the incompetence, ignorance and corruption of our government during the early stages of this pandemic, I have had to endure this inconvenience for the last 2 years. And I didn’t whine about it–Sociopathic Sissies whine about having to wear a mask to protect the vulnerable, while touting their “rights” .
    Now that the CDC has “flip flopped” once again because the science and the situation has changed, I will gladly shed my mask. Unless of course, a privately owned company requires it. Or if I happen to be in a situation where I think it is reasonable.
    This idea that people want to “control” us by requiring a simple mask to protect the vulnerable for some reason is little less than the paranoid rantings of sociopaths.

      • Joe– no– I mean the situation regarding covid has changed. We have a vaccine– about 75 % of Americans are vaccinated. New cases have dropped dramatically not only here, but the U.S in general and we have better treatments.
        Are you really implying that medical officials and health care workers have actually changed public health policies based on polling data for an election that is 10 months away , and not based on the factors I just mentioned?
        Your inference is truly insulting.
        I think you owe each and every one of those hard working public servants an apology.

        • Yes Keller, that is what we are saying, and it aint the tireless worker but the politicians who are in step with the polls and want to stem their losses. You can be insulted all you want. After this it will be mold or fluoride or lead or something else to keep the masses controlled. 5 years from now it will be the electric car owners who will persecute a gas driven vehicle. Wanna bet?

          • Andy– Careful with that betting stuff.
            If you can craft a wager that has a mechanism to verify some sort of claim you have, I will be willing to take a look at it.
            But for now it seems your offer of easy money for me is not really a wager of any sort, but rather an attempt to punctuate some paranoid point that you may have.
            But if you want to take a real bet, I will offer my climate bet to you once again–
            ” Globally ,2022 will be one of the warmest 10 years since modern records have been kept ( 1890- today) as verified by NOAA, NASA, the world meteorological organization, and the Japan meteorological agency. — events such as nuclear war, volcanic activity or any other singular event ( such as an asteroid strike) of a scope that can temporarily cool or warm the planet, and be verified by said agencies voids the bet.”
            I’ll be nice, and give you 10 to one odds — $100 from me against $10 from you. I’ll keep it small on the off chance you might actually pay up if you lose.

          • Andy– a sincere question for you. Why do you think that people who are concerned about toxic substances in our environment are trying to “control the masses” ? And more to the point, how exactly are they going to “control” us ?

          • How about all those public servants who worked though covid without an issue and were then fired for not taking a shot? Do you owe them an apology?

    • Keller
      If a person who was born in 1922 and has believed for the last 100 years all and only what the experts said. On issues like race and sex, economics and law, astronomy and physics, psychology and medicine, the old guy would have beliefs now entirely incompatible with what he believed at the beginning. If he reflected on these changing beliefs, he’d have to conclude that most of the things that the experts in most areas had said for most of the past 100 years were false. He would be wise to assume that most of what they’re saying now is false as well.

      • andy– it’s called “learning” — you should try it sometime.

        Times change– when I was a boy in Catholic school, you had to fast from the night before to receive communion. When I went to Catholic church as a young adult a few times in my early 20’s to appease my parents, it was a 3 hour fast. Basically, you could eat breakfast.
        When I went to a Catholic wedding a few years ago, it was an hour. Since the ceremony was about an hour, and communion was offered at the end of the service, you could be polishing off that fish fillet sandwich on a Friday, while walking through to door.
        The bible says you shall be put to death for working on the sabbath– never eat pork– you can have no more that 2 slaves from a neighboring country- “unclean” women shall be shunned during menstruation — and if you sell your daughter into slavery, she might never be free..
        Times change–

        • Thomas. yep, the world was flat and then we found it to be round. We burned witches and then we found there were none. Invalidates lots of things but not all things. Typical liberal argument. Prove something from an exception.

          • Andy– you say. “typical liberal argument. Prove something from an exception”,
            So, over the last 100 years, our understanding of how virtually everything works has changed. How is that an exception ? What is the exception ?
            There is of course, one exception ——that being that some higher power still decides when women get pregnant, if you get struck by lightning, when people die, when and where hurricanes form, what houses tornadoes destroy and who gets killed in those houses, which cars go off the road in a snow storm, and every other single aspect of anything that happens in anyone’s life, or for that matter the lives of every other living thing on this planet, from the largest whale to the smallest of viruses. Even non living things are directed by this omnipotent power,
            That has stayed the same.. Right ?
            I call THAT the exception.

          • Andy— what makes you think there are no witches ?

            Sarah Palin got “blessed” by Thomas Muthee to specifically protect her from witches– apparently it didn’t work.

            Christine O’Donnel , a prominent republican senate candidate told us in 1999 , while running for office in Delaware that she was not a witch, but had merely “dabbled” in witchcraft.

            And then of course, there is the “Pagan and witchcraft society.” which anyone can join right now for 3 euro’s

            Wrong again, Andy…

          • Witch rumors and flat Earth theories were based solely on assumptions, emotion, and superstition. They were not repeatedly observed and tested within objective parameters like a disease and its potential solutions. Funny enough, those who applied math and avant-la-lettre scientific method when analyzing the planet actually got it right back in ancient times. This has been overshadowed in history books. Myths are memorable.

            The promotion of vaccines, for one, has been based on data coming out of multiple countries. That should carry more weight than belief. A man born in 1922 would be familiar with the damage caused by illnesses for which there were no vaccines. He would also have witnessed their emerging benefits and the way they’ve held up over a period of decades. We have heard from folks throughout COVID who recall the days of polio. They’re almost always pro-vaccine for a reason.

            Plenty of findings stand the test of time. I wouldn’t call them exceptions. That’s the difference between science and cultural attitudes. New scientific details become available as technology improves, but foundational principles often survive. The truth about Earth’s shape is a good example. Despite advanced modeling of the universe, it hasn’t been challenged in ages by anyone except those searching Dealey Plaza for JFK Jr.

            The basics of what happened during the 1918 pandemic are still relevant today. More spread equaled more death and suffering. Containing it when possible was a worthwhile, though difficult, goal. That reality hasn’t changed over the past century. We are now lucky enough to have preventative tools and information that prior generations did not. Many have chosen to squander them, affecting the group as a whole. Some find this acceptable. Others do not. We know that the grief and losses are real through experience.

  4. UGH! I tried so hard not to respond.
    I’m hoping these inflammatory comments like many of the responses I have read over time are in jest, adding “fuel to the fire” so to speak but just in case they are not… Whatever I chose to do in the interest of my own personal health and safety is not open for debate or ridicule nor is it anyone else’s business. I’ve heard the sheep theory, conspiracy theory and whatever else has been used as an argument to dispute why it makes “common sense” to comply. Over 850,000 folks young and old are no longer walking this earth in the US alone. Not so amusing when you think about the shock and grief their families have experienced. As a 67 year old, compromised woman vaccinated and boosted, I am blessed to still be here and no one in my family has been seriously affected, even those unvaccinated. Mandate or not, like it or not, I will continue to wear my mask in situations where it makes me feel more comfortable. MY Choice! MY Right!
    My prayer is in the near future we will ALL feel safe enough to come out of this abbreviated life we’ve lived far too long.

  5. Thank you, Don Keller, for your very sane and wise letter. I couldn’t agree with you more on everything that you said.

  6. There you go again “Don.” Vilifying folks who simply share their opinions in the comments arena. You just can’t help yourself I guess. Policing the comments while further alienating people. Lighten up buddy.

  7. So much angst and anger over wearing masks is unwise. It seems that people who are more conservative about spreading any virus or disease don’t have the time to participate in this discussion.

    what I would like to contribute is that the Moldy indoor air quality of many of the buildings on Martha’s Vineyard are making people have immune dysfunction in fighting off viruses as well as Lyme disease the ignorance about the health effects of mold is quite amazing.

    Harvard school of public health published four articles on immune damage from Mycotoxin exposure if anybody cares to read them they’re on my website as well. our island is probably the moldiest place in the United States yet the inhabitants just don’t want to hear it. Ignorance is bliss.

    it’s time to wake up to many realities – including
    that avoidance of exposure to viruses, chemicals, molds is advisable.
    These are not emotional issues but scientific facts
    Keeping in mind that those living And working in moldy buildings can become irritable and beligerent towards others and in their newspaper commentary as well.

  8. A very big THANK YOU, THANK YOU to the island boards of health, made up of our friends and neighbors who have taken their public service so seriously and with such fairness, time, knowledge, and intelligence. They put up with a lot of abuse, for sure, but there are those of us who appreciate all they do, not to mention the intensity of what their enormous task must have been like for them and their families.

    In my view, the meeting went well with no surprises. The questions, the discussions, the clarifications, and the voting all came to a rational conclusion where the mask mandates for most situations have been lifted for islanders. This, along with our low numbers is great. I don’t believe there is anyone who can deny this. What I found revealing about the meeting, but so far unreported, was the open publicly typed ‘CHAT’ that was going on while people were speaking. I took screen shots of the public CHAT that was seen by all who attended the zoom meeting.

    I cannot imagine being a board of health member, a library employee, or a business that will continue to ask for masks because they want to protect their vulnerable workers and customers. Putting up with ignorance, self-absorption, and downright cruelty toward others must be awful.

    That said, MOST people, and I am one, wanted to see the mask mandates lifted because the science says it’s time.

    Here are some exactly transcribed CHAT comments from yesterday’s meeting:

    “Kim Murphy to Everyone 1:12 PM
    high risk? stay home or wear a mask. This is AMERICA and we are supposed to be FREE”

    “Jen Woods to Everyone 1:13PM
    If you are scared, wear a mask. Leave my children alone.”

    “Elizabeth Mellon to Everyone 1:13 PM
    If they want to mask up then do so, stop forcing your fear on our children”

    “Vikki Cortez to Everyone 1:14 PM
    It is not my child’s job to protect anyone else! wear your mask if you feel unsafe”

    “Jane Katch (she, her) toEveryone 1:21 PM
    Please make it clear to the public that buildings and businesses have the right to require masks. Those of us who are immune compromised need to have options where we feel safe.”

    “Kim Murphy to Everyone 1:22 PM
    you have a right to do what you want with your business, just like we have a right to not frequent your business.”

    “lisa’s iPad to Everyone 1:23 PM
    Thanks for your continued time and dedication. -Lisa Reagan OBSC”

    “Keith Bassett to Everyone 1:23 PM
    All of you voting to end mask mandates ‘based o CDC guidelines’ will be voted out in the next election. We need leaders who can think critically and make rational and science based decisions, who are not blindly following a non elected body, such as the CDC!”

    “Kim Murphy to Everyone 1:24 PM
    And we need people to step up!”

    “Lara Maciel to Everyone 1:24 PM
    medical tyranny ends now!”

    “Marnely Murray to Everyone 1:24 PM
    Thanks everyone!!!!”

    “Keith Bassett to Everyone 1:25 PM
    Mandates are not laws!”

    “Diana Lozano to Everyone 1:26 PM
    so sad only 158 people were on this and now only 80”

    “Kim Murphy to Everyone 1:33 PM

    “Alex’s Vieira to Everyone 1:33 PM
    Section off part of library for people who want to be comforted by masks and a section for people who can choose freely”

    “Kim Murphy to Everyone 1:33 PM
    @Alyson – open to everyone ALSO means ope to those who want to be FREE”

    “Joshua Alwardt to Everyone 1:34 PM
    Children under 2 aren’t required to wear a mask, so it shouldn’t affect the toddler story time issue, or parents with young child going to the library

    “Jason to Everyone 1:34 PM
    How is the library different from daycares. They are not requiring masks either. Those kids are under 5”

    “Kim Murphy to Everyone 1:35 PM
    once you have power it’s hard to let go. So sad OB”

    It should be noted that a few who have been the most vocally and angrily anti-masks in any and all situations throughout the pandemic are also rabidly anti vaccine conspiracy theorists. Check out Kim Murphy’s public Facebook page.

      • I wrote, “…MOST people, and I am one, wanted to see the mask mandates lifted because the science says it’s time”. Is English your first language, “Alex Keane”?

    • Is this your attempt to shame people? How incredibly sad it must be to have to resort to this. I understand you must be extremely concerned with the new lack of mandates but it is unacceptable to “shame” anyone.

      No one cares if you continue to wear your mask. It’s your right to, actually we encourage it, just don’t tell me to wear mine.

      Also, a lot of comments were in response to the contradiction of the CDC and also how the BOH blindly follows whatever they say. We voted for the BOH not the CDC. I suspect they are following suit with the left of the country ahead of elections that will most likely not go in their favor.

      I look forward to the next BOH elections and the shake up with will result from “well intentioned” mandates.

      The Covid mask theater has finally come to an end.

      • As far as I can tell, selfish ignorance has as much capacity for shame as it does for empathy, Bill. If you read what I wrote, I am in favor of lifting the mask mandates.

  9. @jackie Mendez. Thank you so much for once again sharing me to the world. Your contribution is helpful to say the least. Next time why don’t you take it up with me personally, I’ll gladly have a conversation with you any time.

    • I’ve welcomed your sanity throughout this process! Don’t stop now, run for public office! We need sanity such as yours on the island.

    • (I’ll try again, George.)

      Kim, you have yourself to thank, not me, for all the sharing you do on social media and and at public meetings.

  10. Thank you MV times for censoring any and all of my replies. There’s obviously no bias and you’re well respected organization!

    • I’m still learning, but what’s perceived by the moderator as a personal attack against another commenter is not allowed here. I’m sure moderating is no fun at all.
      You CAN attack a person and their ideas if they are written about in any news article or editorial, though, whether nationally famous or a local. BOH members are attacked left and right, even if they are not personally named. Seems simple enough, but it’s often hard, for me as well. I seriously doubt anyone is censored more than I am!

      Anyone who objects to being quoted in any of my comments, should think about what they publicly write for all the world to see. If there’s something one has said or written in a public forum, it’s fair game to be shared when it is relevant, as it was here.

  11. I am truly amazed at how many islanders have studied communicable diseases for 20+ years. Was there a community based class for this? Do so many people actually study this stuff for their whole lives and I just missed the boat? (Sarcasm)! The level of misinformation that gets disseminated around public forums is astounding, and put out here as though you have years of study and experience in these areas. “The CDC doesn’t know what they are talking about…”
    “Scientists are all stupid” “masks don’t work”, science in and of itself is not exact. Things change, everyone’s sick of masks, but if me wearing one doesn’t cause the guy next to me at the store to contract a disease he could die from, I’ll do it forever

    • Zeke– the disinformation and mistrust of anything that may be construed as a fact is questioned, especially if it does not fit one’s narrative.

  12. Keith, you’re so right. Whoever has the power to decide which comments get the green light and which are ignored, certainly has an agenda. And it’s not simply a policy/rules criteria from which they’re operating.

    • This is America.
      The owners of MVT decide which comments to publish.
      Not the commenters, not the ‘government’.

      • So, Albert, I guess you support businesses that deny services to people. Like refusing to bake cakes for certain weddings.

  13. My point is, follow the studies and recommendations from people who know what they are talking about. Builders don’t let plumbers tell them how to do their job, dentists don’t let contractors tell them how to do their job……just doesn’t make any logical sense to not follow the recommendation of someone who knows. Other then a personal opinion because it makes you uncomfortable.

    • Zeke, builders and plumbers lose customers when they dont do their job. Government employees get paid regardless of what they say and do. There is no profit incentive and they feed at the trough. Science doesnt say anything–people do and many of them have an agenda. The government wanted the safest possible advice given to cover the largest amount of people just like my instructions on Advil not to take more than 4 a day when I can really take 8 if I want to and to no peril. The government had to say something to try to protect every one and in so doing everyone had to suffer for more than two years when the government should have selected most vulnerable and old. They did not. The tyranny of tiny risks prevailed.

  14. Maybe it is time to stop complaining about your “freedom” to not wear a mask while 2 million Ukrainians are fleeing their country. Ukrainians are dying for their freedom. You are perverting the debate over what it means to be free.

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