In response to the small island's first case of COVID-19, local officials in Nantucket issued a stay-at-home order Sunday, mandating that residents only leave their homes for "essential" activities.
Residents in Provincetown are also being ordered by local officials to stay home starting at 5 p.m. Monday.
Nantucket Cottage Hospital reported the island's case on Sunday morning after receiving the results. The patient is isolated at home and, health workers add, seasonal residents and travelers should reconsider coming to the island. During a press availability on Sunday morning, Gov. Charlie Baker also urged people with vacation homes on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket to stay away from the islands so as not to stretch their resources.
Health officials are also investigating the patient's close contacts to identify any others on the island who may have been exposed to the virus.
The order mandates that Nantucket residents leave home only for essential activities, including travel for work, food, medicine, and necessary appointments like doctor’s visits. The order notes that “essential activities” include surfing and other outdoor recreation. Violating the order can carry a $1,000 fine, but Nantucket assistant town manager Gregg Tivnan says that police will not be issuing the fines.
“We are not going to be pulling people over. The police are not going to be fining people on the street,” he says. “You have to walk your dog, get fresh air and, of course, you have to go to the grocery store.”
Tivnan says the point of the order is to emphasize how important it is for Nantucket residents to practice social distancing measures — including staying a minimum of six feet apart from others — and remaining home to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the island. Nantucket has limited medical facilities, and Tivnan says an epidemic could quickly overwhelm the island’s resources.
There’s no intensive care unit and only 14 beds and 12 emergency department rooms in Nantucket Cottage Hospital, says Jason Graziadei, a hospital spokesperson.
“We can handle cases that come in and treat patients, but we have a limited number of ventilators. We want people to understand [the situation] given our remote nature and the limited resources on the island — especially people who are coming here to ‘ride it out’ on Nantucket,” he says. “We’ve asked them to make the choice not to come to Nantucket.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 5 to 11.5% of patients with COVID-19 need intensive care. But any patients will need to be transferred off Nantucket for that type of care, Graziadei says. One of hospital officials' biggest concerns is that by the time any Nantucket residents need an ICU, other hospitals in Massachusetts may already be at capacity.
“That’s why our situation is a little different and more precarious than other places in Massachusetts,” Graziadei says.
That’s also why Nantucket issued the stay at home order early, with only one case of COVID-19 on the island, he adds. By putting the order in place now and emphasizing how important it is for residents to follow it, local officials hope that the island will be able to "flatten the curve" and stop a sudden surge of critically ill patients with coronavirus.
“It’s just a way of getting this out there in the public and remind people the gravity of this order," Tivnan says. "Wash your hands. Don’t stack up in lines. Be really conscious."
Nantucket Cottage Hospital spokesman Jason Graziadei's name was spelled incorrectly in an earlier version of this article. We regret the error.
This article was originally published on March 22, 2020.