After a year of mandatory mask requirements in the Island downtowns, boards of health in both Edgartown and Tisbury have voted to suspend the orders, marking a significant milestone in the Island’s fight against Covid-19.
A similar decision is expected to come in Oak Bluffs next week.
The decision to rescind the orders comes as Covid-19 case rates across the country continue to fade and federal and state officials have issued guidance saying that it is safe for vaccinated people to go out in public maskless.
Last week, the Gov. Charlie Baker also announced that masks would not be required outdoors if six-foot social distance could be maintained.
Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said that Island boards of health have decided to follow the state guidelines, in whatever iteration they take, voting on Wednesday this week to suspend their orders requiring masks in downtown business districts.
The stringent mask orders date to last May. In an usual show of Islandwide collaboration, Vineyard towns instituted the orders in the early days of the pandemic as a summer of unknowns loomed ahead, pre-empting state mask rules with stricter orders for Main Streets and business districts. Towns also instituted strict construction moratoriums, prompting a showdown with the governor.
Mr. Poole said construction orders have also been suspended in Edgartown as well.
In an email, Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said Tisbury made similar decisions at a board of health meeting Tuesday.
“We’ll be adhering to the state guidance going forward,” Ms. Valley wrote. “The Tisbury DPW was to begin removing signs today.”
On Friday morning, a power quartet of town officials that have spent the past year fighting the pandemic, including Mr. Poole, town administrator James Hagerty, police chief Bruce McNamee and fire chief Alex Schaeffer gathered in downtown Edgartown to commemorate the occasion. Equipped not with pens but with wrenches, the men removed dozens of mandatory mask signs that have hung on Main street since almost exactly this time last May.
Mr. Hagerty, ever the stoic utilitarian, sternly denied any ceremony in the affair.
“We just wanted to get it done now,” he said. “Summer is coming.”
Mr. Poole laughed.
“Yes, it was a little ceremonial,” he admitted.
Island case rates have declined since spiking in early March, with 79 per cent of the Vineyard having received a first Covid-19 vaccination dose according to state Department of Public Health data. More than 50 per cent of the Island has received a second vaccine dose.
On Thursday, hospital officials announced that children ages 12-15 could sign up for vaccine doses after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine for young teens, with appointments for Saturday, May 15, Thursday, May 20 and Saturday, May 22 widely available. The hospital kept its clinic open two hours late Thursday to accommodate demand for children coming after school.
“We currently have many available appointments to accommodate the 12 to 17-year-old age group,” hospital spokesman Marissa Lefebvre said in an email.
Mr. Poole said that even though the Island continues to report a small number of cases, the trends are looking promising for the summer.
“We tapered up a little later than the rest of the state, and are tapering down a little later than the rest of the state,” Mr. Poole said. “But we are heading in the right direction.”