Good evening. I am Roberto Santamaria, your host this evening for Nantucket Pulse programming made possible by Nantucket Cottage Hospital Community Health Initiative. This is a special edition of the Nantucket Pulse program that will air weekly covering the coronavirus impacts for the island and will provide urgent updates as they unfold.
We are recording today’s episode at 2pm. I am happy to welcome friend-of-the-show Gary Shaw, CEO & President of Nantucket Cottage Hospital; Kevin Comick, Executive Director of the Senior Living Residences at Sherburne Commons; and Janet Schulte, Director of Culture and Tourism, Town of Nantucket. Gary will share a statement from the hospital. Then, I will discuss the work of the Town’s COVID-19 Economic Impacts Task Force and the economic impact survey that shows just how much the pandemic has impacted local businesses with Janet. Finally, I will speak to Kevin about the challenges of protecting an organization full of folks over 65 years young, which of course are at high risk for COVID-19. First, let’s begin with some community updates.
The governor released the “Four-Phase Approach to Reopening Massachusetts” this week. The first phase begins on May 18, when the Stay-at-Home Advisory is expected to end. Phase 1 is named “Start” and will allow “limited” industries to resume operations with “severe restrictions”. Phase 2 is named “Cautious” and will permit additional industries to resume business with “restrictions and capacity limits”. Phase 3 is named “Vigilant” and will see even more industries open with “guidance” from the commonwealth. Phase 4 is named “New Normal” and will start once a vaccine and/or therapy manage the virus. The start date of each phase will be determined by the government and medical officials. Massachusetts can regress to a previous phase if conditions warrant. The goal of both the commonwealth and of my department is to avoid this regression, especially in the summer. By continuing efforts to stop the spread such as wearing masks, social distancing, and implementing clear workplace sanitation standards, we can decrease the change of moving backward. To support the long-term plan of a phased reopening, the commonwealth might institute “focused interventions to prevent local outbreaks from spreading” applied to certain towns or types of businesses. It has created a “Mandatory Workplace Safety Standards” that apply to every business in Phase 1. They include social distancing measures, hygiene requirements, disinfecting steps, and more. To learn more, visit the link on your screen and in the description.
On May 14, the governor announced plans to boost overall testing capacity to 45,000 daily tests by the end of July and to 75,000 by December. The commonwealth will expand testing to focus partly on residents and patients in high-risk congregate settings like state hospitals, group homes, and correctional facilities. Plans also call for randomized testing for “surveillance purposes” as part of the Community Tracing Collaborative’s effort to track the spread. The plans also seek to reduce test result turnaround to next-day or even same-day responses. This expansion comes after the National Guard has been tasked with conducting widespread testing for staff and residents of assisted living facilities. Yesterday, the National Guard was at Sherburne Commons administering tests to protect the residents there. The commonwealth continues to work on acquiring personal protective equipment for front-line workers.
The commonwealth has relaxed its closure policy for non-essential retailers. Now, up to 3 employees (for business 10,000 square feet and smaller) may go to the store to package, ship, and/or deliver orders. All deliveries must be “no-contact,” so a local business could drop off an item to a customer’s porch, mailbox, and so on. All employees must stay 6 feet apart and wear masks. Also, the store must have easily accessible hand sanitizers and handwashing facilities. No sick employee should come to work, and everyone should check his/her temperatures and stay home if it rises above 100 degrees. If your non-essential business does not have a brick-and-mortar store — and all workers can maintain social distancing — then it may continue operations. There has been some confusion about whether customers can enter stores other than pharmacies and grocery stores on Nantucket. The Board of Health intends to clarify that question at its meeting next week.
The Board of Health issued Emergency Orders #8 & #9 on May 11th. Order #8 allows all construction projects that received a permit before March 20 and have no more than 6 workers on-site at a time to resume operation. Plans with larger crews can apply for a waiver from the Building Department if there is a strong need. However, Building Commissioner Paul Murphy has approved these requests sparingly. He said to the Select Board that several crews have asked for a waiver to work on “large” homes. His response was,
“I haven’t found that is sufficient reason to grant additional workers. Everyone feels that their job is unique and ‘large’ is kind of subjective. It would be tough for me to do that fairly. So, for the moment I’ve been denying those types of requests.”
Crews with multiple people need to register with the Building Department; single person jobs no longer have to do so. Construction can resume — regardless of permit date — for houses that contain dwelling units subject to a deed restriction limiting ownership or rental to households earning 150% or less of area median income. Essential work like emergency roof repair can also proceed regardless of the permit date. The two differences between Nantucket’s construction restrictions and the commonwealth’s are in the limit of 6 workers and the restrictions on projects with permits after March 20th.
Order #9 expands the list of landscaping projects eligible to resume as long as they: 1) apply to and receive approval from the Department of Health or Natural Resources Department; 2) for properties of 5,000 square feet or more, no more than 4 workers report to the premises at the same time and for properties of 5,000 square feet or less, no more than 2 workers report to the premises at the same time. The main difference between Order #9 and the commonwealth’s restrictions is the lower limit of workers on the island. The Town makes clear that sick employees should not report to work. Both Commissioner Murphy and Natural Resource Department Director Jeff Carlson have reported honest cooperation among the companies getting back to construction and landscaping work. Both plans are available on the Town’s website. Translations will be provided in Spanish and Portuguese.
Town buildings and offices will start to open on May 18th, but some places might remain closed for a few more days. The Police Station will be open then. Town Manager Libby Gibson recommends calling the department you intend to visit before arriving. Your request might be handled over the phone or simply need you to drop off items in a dropbox outside the building. Calling eliminates the chance of driving to a closed building.
The Town government created the COVID-19 Economic Impact Task Force to hear from representatives from various island businesses to learn about the pandemic’s impacts on them and to highlight resources and policy changes that are relevant to them. Organized by the Novak Consulting Group, the task force met with representatives from 8 sectors of the local industry. After hearing so many different viewpoints, certain requests began to emerge. They can be divided into four categories:
- Businesses want clear and consistent communication with the Town and public. For example, they want the government to inform them about resources and to have consistent, up-to-date signage for the public.
- They want creative use of outdoor spaces. This idea can take many forms: such as curbside delivery, sidewalk service, new traffic management, and additional parking.
- They want guidance regarding the best cleaning and sanitation practices. They want to know what the industry-specific protocols are and where to get personal protective equipment. They also want Town and commonwealth guidelines to align more closely.
- They are asking for a review of 2020 permits. They suggest that 2020 permits could be grandfathered into 2021.
The COVID-19 Economic Impact Task Force also worked with the EBP consulting firm to survey over 440 businesses that represent an estimated 42 percent of all establishments on the island. The findings confirm a steep decrease in business across nearly every sector of the island. Nearly 90% of participants were for-profit businesses, and the rest were non-profits. The most common industries to respond were in the construction/trades, retail service, food service, and hotel/lodging. By late March “no commuting or shopping was taking place as people began to self-quarantine”. You can see on this graph showing that the number of vehicle-miles traveled on the island spikes up and down in early March, but by mid-to-late March, the amount is near 0.
At the time of the survey, which was over a month ago, only .9% of respondents had ceased operations. However, 89% of respondents expect to lose at least 25% of their revenue through June. 35% expect to lose more than 75%. Less than half — 46% — felt they had an adequate amount of cash on hand to handle the drop in revenue. In order to help fill the gap, two-thirds have applied to federal, state, or local aid during the pandemic. Most commonly, they applied to the Small Business Association programs like the Paycheck protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance. The most common cost-cutting responses of the respondents were closing operations temporarily (56%), applying for a business loan or grant (52%), and delaying seasonal opening dates (38%). For that question, multiple options could be chosen. The data makes clear that the financial pain is growing. Over 60% of organizations say they must receive support in the next 60 days. The most commonly requested form of support? A clear majority want financial support such as grants, loans, delayed rent payments, and delayed tax payments.
The budget for 2021 has gone through major changes. In order to anticipate lost tax revenue due to the pandemic, the Town has created a “catastrophic” plan that assumes over $5 million in lost income. In order to absorb that blow, the budget calls for nearly $2.2 million in cuts. The cuts include not contributing to the Other Post Employment Benefits fund, making “comfortable” cuts to the Town’s Health Insurance costs, and reducing the school’s budget. This cut will largely be done through salary costs. However, the school will still receive extra funding for updating some of its dated technology. An overview of the cuts can be seen on your screen. This plan will still leave a deficit of $3.4 million.
Let’s finish tonight’s updates with the lifelines to the island. The Steamship Authority is bringing back the high-speed ferry for Memorial Day Weekend, from May 21st to the 26th. The schedule is being displayed on your screen right now and is available on their website and at the link in the description. The company is also making slight changes to its car ferry service. The new schedule starts today and can be seen on your screen now and on their website as well as via the link in the description.
HyLine Cruises is adding 3 new departures to their regularly scheduled 5 daily trips. These additions start today and continue until at least May 21st. The full schedule can be seen on your screen, at the HyLine’s website, and via the link in the description. Please note that a few HyLine ferries will not run on May 16th and 17th. These exceptions are on the schedule.
Now, I would like to welcome Gary Shaw with a special statement from the hospital. Welcome, Gary.
We will continue to provide you with updates on the Coronavirus and impacts for Nantucket. Please tune in to Nantucket Pulse, a wellness segment series with new episodes each week. Hosted by Natalie Ciminero, ITS DESIGNED TO CONNECT OUR VIEWERS WITH LOCAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS THAT CAN HELP US TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES AND OTHERS AROUND US. You can watch on CHANNEL 18 AND NCTV18.ORG. Please share this with friends and family. It’s important that communications remain in place as events continue to unfold and we all remain connected. It’s crucial to get the facts from your local news sources such as the Inquirer and Mirror, 97.7 ACK FM radio, and NCTV Channel 18. Please stay tuned to see a special message to our essential workers from the community.