Fines, shutdowns on table for violators after spike in cases among tradespeople.
NANTUCKET — The Board of Health is stepping up its job-site enforcement to combat the spread of COVID-19, after it was confirmed the majority of the 30 positive cases on the island reported since Wednesday came from people working in the trades.
In an emergency meeting Monday, the board voted unanimously not only to increase its outreach efforts regarding social distancing and mask-wearing to people in the trades, including landscaping, construction and cleaning, but to issue fines of up to $300 to employers for each violation.
If there are more than three violations over a three-day period by the same company, the town now also has the ability to shut that business down.
“We’re going to see more cases. Cases are going to happen,” Health Director Roberto Santamaria said. “We’re never going to be able to stop COVID from coming. We’re just trying to slow it down so that we can handle the onslaught, so we don’t get three people on ventilators here and 30 on ventilators in Boston.”
Currently no island patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized on Nantucket or in mainland facilities.
The recent spike in cases stems from people commuting together in one vehicle to a job site without wearing masks and ignoring orders to maintain social distance and wear a mask at work, town officials said.
On Friday, Select Board Chairwoman Dawn Holdgate announced the town would close Tom Nevers Park from dusk to dawn and consider closing other parks and ballfields. A day earlier, school officials announced that classes, which are scheduled to begin Wednesday, would be 100% remote through at least Sept. 30.
Board of Health Vice Chairman Malcolm MacNab said he would like to see the town enact stricter measures to curb the spread of the virus, such as limiting the number of workers per job site or enacting a construction and landscaping moratorium as it did in the spring.
“How long are we’re going to wait?” MacNab asked. “I thought it was now time to go back to the March restrictions on some of these businesses. I want to get ahead of the curve, not behind it.”
Santamaria acknowledged that lack of compliance has been especially problematic with multiple people in a single car or at a job site. It also has been a problem at large parties and even downtown, when people refuse to wear masks, he said. But he argued that the new cases alone do not give the town reason to shut down businesses on the island.
“We’re not looking to move to curbside delivery anytime soon,” he said. “We’re not looking to shut down hotels or movie theaters anytime soon. That is far in the distance if we’re even thinking about that.”
Those who have tested positive most recently range in age from under 5 to 60, with the majority being in their 20s and 30s. About 40% of all 93 people who have tested positive since mid-March are in their 20s. About 56% are male and 44% are white, Santamaria said.
Several of the 30 people who tested positive since Wednesday refused to provide the town with contact-tracing information. Select Board member Matt Fee argued that information is necessary before the town can make any policy decision on curbing the virus.
“The message is we all have to do this, period. And not getting people to do this is going to lead to way more devastation in various communities and possibly in our entire community,” Fee said.
“If we’re only getting 10 out of 30 people working with us, we’re going to be in big trouble.”
Board member Melissa Murphy disagreed. If responses are coming from immigrants, the town needs to understand there are fears in those communities about providing personal information, she said.
“We also have to put ourselves in an empathetic spot to understand that many of our immigrant families come from communities where the government cannot be trusted,” she said.
The Board of Health is scheduled to hold another meeting Thursday afternoon on additional potential actions to reduce the spread of the virus.