This post, by our CEO Cynthia Mitchell, was published as commentary in the September 24 issue of the Vineyard Gazette.
We are on the brink of testing nearly 20,000 individuals, asymptomatic and symptomatic, for Covid-19 on the Vineyard while maintaining an enviable infection rate of .005. That we made it this far with all the challenges of living and working in a summer resort community in the midst of a global pandemic is a testament to several factors, including the early shutdown of construction which went beyond the state mandate.
While that five-town order (Aquinnah sat out citing little building activity) faced criticism, it also gave us an early indication that Islanders would work through the knottiest hurdles. In this case, the boards of health, town administrators and leading contractors came together to refine the regulations and urge widespread compliance.
It hasn’t been easy. It’s produced a multitude of challenges, from managing Menemsha sunset throngs to Circuit avenue revelers, but by and large the Vineyard community from all corners — year-rounders, seasonal and visitors — answered the call to keep our Island safe.
At TestMV, the PCR Covid-19 test site that officially opened June 1 for asymptomatic adults, there has been a remarkable public-private partnership. Quest Diagnostics, led by CEO Steve Rusckowski, a longtime Edgartown seasonal resident, provided not just the testing supplies but a project management team and resources that allowed Island Health Care to operate the site without interruption. Quest also developed an online option that led to a much-improved patient experience, whether online, same-day registration, or advance appointments through the call center.
The town health agents have, in a word, been remarkable. From managing their own town responses, to ensuring TestMV was launched and operating successfully, they brought a forward-looking perspective while at the same time taking their slots at the test site. Tisbury health agent Maura Valley has provided a daily report on test results that incorporated TestMV, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Aquinnah, which offered saliva tests to all residents for free.
James Anthony and the Martha’s Vineyard Bank stepped up early by ensuring that no one would be denied a test for lack of insurance or citizenship. Their $100,000 commitment gave everyone comfort in this new world where nothing was certain, including insurance reimbursement. Finally, their marketing team enabled us to get the word out through innovative branding, advertising and spinoff products from masks to bank slips, badges and road signs.
Individual donors, led by our own Ron Rappaport’s fundraising prowess, filled in the gaps whether that was outreach, photography, or staffing up the online operation so people could register on site and get tested the same day. Another donor latched on to MaskMV, the brainchild of our public health nurses, Lila Fisher and Lori Perry, and soon pedestrian hubs up-Island and down, were met by friendly, informative faces with masks and testing information.
No one arriving on the Vineyard could miss the signs of our unified, amplified public health messaging: keep your distance, wear your mask and get tested.
A word about volunteers. TestMV logged in 99 over the summer, and Deb Rusckowski, the wife of Quest chief executive officer Steve Rusckowski, was the first clinical volunteer to step forward and wore her PPE for shifts throughout the summer. Overall, we had 43 clinical volunteers, including nine doctors, 17 nurses and 12 EMTs, with eight coming from the Edgartown fire department. We had 58 non-clinical volunteers who were runners, traffic managers and data enterers; 19 were under 25 years old, including Eloise and Adrianne Christie of Chilmark who are high school sophomores. Our oldest volunteer was Lorraine Baugh, 85, a beloved nurse from Oak Bluffs.
Finally, the Community Ambassadors Project working with newly trained interpreters helped us reach the Brazilian community with messaging that was relevant to their concerns about the pandemic.
So much of the Island’s response to Covid-19 required a nearly Herculean effort, from the public health community to others meeting urgent needs like food on the table for a family suddenly unemployed, or rental assistance to stave off evictions on one side and lost income for landlords on the other.
The fall brings new challenges. Will the economy shut down again even as many seasonal residents are staying on for months, not weeks? With Islanders itching to get off the rock to shop or finally visit family, will that threaten our low infection rate? Will college students coming back from distant universities, many in red-zone states, have an impact? And can we devise an appropriate testing program for the schools to keep our students, their families and our teachers safe as they reopen?
To be sure, there’s a long list of uncertainties. But as we head into the short days and falling temperatures, I have faith and determination that this Island community will figure it out.