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'They Come Already Sick': With Summer, More COVID-19 Cases Arrive On Nantucket

In this Thursday June 18, 2015 photo, Nantucket's Sankaty Head Light is bathed in late afternoon sunshine on Nantucket island. (William J. Kole/AP)
In this Thursday June 18, 2015 photo, Nantucket's Sankaty Head Light is bathed in late afternoon sunshine on Nantucket island. (William J. Kole/AP)

Several popular Massachusetts summer destinations have seen COVID-19 cases rise in recent weeks, among them the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Local health officials believe many of these cases stem from out-of-state visitors, who may be bringing the virus with them as they arrive for vacation.

On Nantucket, Health and Human Services Director Roberto Santamaria said over the last few weeks, the number of coronavirus cases there has nearly doubled, and many of them can be attributed to visitors from outside Massachusetts.

None of the last 15 [cases] were permanent residents. Five were seasonal residents, and others were just visiting,” he told WBUR on Thursday. “When they come here, they come already sick or asymptomatic. Then they may start showing symptoms, and they show up to our testing center to get tested.”

There are currently 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Nantucket. Santamaria said many of the people who began feeling ill live in, or recently traveled from, “hot spot” states currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections.

“Texas and Florida," he said. "It’s really tough that they’re coming in from hot spots, but we can’t stop them from coming here.” 

Towns on Martha’s Vineyard, including Tisbury, Edgartown and West Tisbury, have also seen increases in cases in the last month, according to state reporting.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration currently instructs all travelers to self-quarantine for two weeks, unless they are arriving from New York, New Jersey or another state in New England. Travel to the state from any part of the country is not restricted, however.

“The administration will continue to evaluate travel guidance for out of state visitors," Terry MacCormack, the governor’s deputy communications director, said in a statement. "Massachusetts has also issued guidance for individuals to wear face coverings and encourages everyone to continue to social distance, practice good hygiene and stay home if you are sick.”

While the influx of new infections is concerning, Santamaria said he's encouraged by the fact that so few permanent Nantucket residents have tested positive. He sees this as evidence that precautions like mask wearing and social distancing are working.

“Even though they’re coming here sick, they’re not necessarily spreading it here,” he said. “We get some pushback here and there of, ‘I don’t want to wear a mask,’ but so far people have been great about following the requirements and emergency orders.”

For popular destinations like Nantucket, managing COVID-19 is a delicate balance. Santamaria said communities like his depend on summer tourism for revenue and residents' livelihoods, but increased traffic to the island also brings the risk of new infections. 

“We’re a summer colony. Our economy relies on tourists,” he said. “It’s really hard. We need people to come, but when they’re here, we need them to pay attention to the mask regulations. If they don’t, it’s worse for everyone.

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Angus Chen Twitter Reporter, CommonHealth
Angus Chen is a reporter for WBUR's CommonHealth.

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