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Every weekday morning WCAI brings you coverage of local issues, news, and stories that matter. Join us for Morning Edition from 6 a.m. to 9a.m., with Kathryn Eident and Brian Morris.

Vineyard Officials to the Governor: Let Us Shut Down Construction


Towns on Martha's Vineyard have shelter-in-place orders in effect as officials attempt to curb the rise of COVID-19. Those orders include a ban on construction.
Governor Charlie Baker pushed back on Wednesday, saying island towns could not issue orders that contradict or supercede what Baker himself put in place.
WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Chilmark Selectman James Malkin to talk about how he and other island officials are responding. 

Eident James, it's not often that you see all six island towns come together like this; how did you make this happen?

Malkin The island—the six towns and the Vineyard—and you're right, it's not often they come together, and in this case came together in a 24 hour period on Monday. We are all facing what we see as a seriously dangerous situation on the island and all of six towns agreed very quickly that what we have to do to limit the spread of this coronavirus is basically hve people stay home, and limit travel to essential travel only. So, that's food, fuel, medicine, getting outside and walking, socially distancing, but really shutting down the island in terms of activity for a two-week period, so we can see what kind of a spike we have, or whether we have a curve, and really doing our best to try and limit the impact of this thing on our already limited resources at the hospital and our medical system. I'll also point out the town of Nantucket issued a virtually identical statement as well on Monday, and sent it up to the governor.

Eident Right. Have you been seeing a lot of construction workers from the mainland going over? I know there's a pretty, you know, a decent sized force of folks who commute every day. And is that why to you wanted the construction to stop on Martha's Vineyard?

Malkin It was actually aimed at about three things. One is, we have construction people here who live here and work here. Two is, we have people coming over from the mainland. The morning boats are filled with people who help our economy and help our services here. And then three, we also have to get a message out to other people who might be coming that this is a serious situation on the island. So, it's really about restricting the contact of people, keeping them safe, not having groups of people congregating and not bringing potential asymptomatic carriers to the island and introducing the virus.

Eident And of course, as I said, the governor is disagreeing with you on Martha's Vineyard, saying that you should not be putting an order in place that's stronger than what he is doing. He deems construction essential. So, I imagine you're making the case that you've been making to me just now with him? You're sending letters?

Malkin Last night, a letter was sent to Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito from all six island towns and the town of Nantucket with the seals and the signatures of all of the selectmen, seven selectman, the chairmen of the select boards actually, very strongly urging him to exempt the islands from the provisions of the recent order and allow us to designate construction and landscaping as services that are not central.

And we hope that—we appreciate what he's doing. We appreciate very much what the state is doing in that concern. But our issue here is on both islands, we have limited or no mutual aid. We can't send people from our hospitals to other hospitals because, frankly, they'd have to go across the water or through the air. We have a significant increase in our population as people have come to shelter in place on the islands rather than staying at home. And, many of them are coming from places where there's large amounts of COVID-19.

We have staffing issues because we're staffed on our homes for winter, not for the summer. Nantucket has 14 beds and the Vineyard has 25 licensed beds at the hospital, three of which are ICU. And, if our so-called social distancing and stay at home doesn't work and falls short, we're going to have a huge population percentage affected.

We also are asking people to come to the island: If you come to the island, and you come across the water coming to your summer home or your seasonal home, we're asking people to self-quarantine for 14 days. We really have to stop this thing because we just don't have the facilities here. We hope the governor reconsiders the legal opinion that was issued yesterday.

Eident Right. And I know—we talked with Senator Julian Cyr a little earlier this week and he has similar concerns. Have you been working with some of the state's legislative delegation to help with this?

Malkin We have, and Senator Cyr and Representive Fernandez have been terrifically helpful for us. We think they've done a great job of making our case. In fact, I believe that Senator Cyr took the letter that I just referred to over to the governor himself last night.

Eident All right. And that is Chilmark Selectman James Malkin talking to us this morning. Thank you so much for joining us. And good luck with your efforts to keep islanders safe. Bye bye.

Malkin Stay safe.

This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.