Residents and health officials on wealthy Martha’s Vineyard have expressed their anger and disappointment after a wedding held on the island earlier this month became a COVID-19 superspreader event.
At least nine people, the majority of whom worked at the wedding, have tested positive for coronavirus after the gathering, health officials confirmed Wednesday.
They believe that wedding attendees broke the state’s protocols by failing to quarantine for 14 days once they arrived to the state, as visitors to Massachusetts are required to do.
‘Of the 9 cases linked to the event, 7 were reported on Martha’s Vineyard and two reported in out-of-state wedding guests who were diagnosed after leaving the Island,’ Tisbury health agent Maura Valley told the Vineyard Gazette.
‘Of the seven cases we are following on the Island, two have completed their isolation and have been released and five are currently being followed by public health.’
Among the nine infected, only four attended the wedding and the other five worked at the event as locals express their anger that it was able to slip through the cracks.
‘It’s pretty discouraging to me,’ Tisbury select board chair Jim Rogers said during a meeting on Tuesday night.
He noted that the community had gone to great lengths to ensure the transmission of coronavirus remained low on the island.
‘And in one weekend, a group of people come down and have a wedding, and we have the largest cluster we’ve had since this whole thing started,’ he added.
‘We need to stay vigilant. We want our restaurants to be able to stay open, even in a limited fashion, and we want our businesses to be able to stay open.’
Residents were also angered to learn that more than half of the people confirmed infected so far were workers.
Peter Koines, who owns a bakery in the area, told the Daily Beast that he had refused to let any of his staff work at events since the pandemic began.
‘We have done social-distancing dropoffs with no contact,’ he said.
‘But I have refused to provide any type of staff, if that’s what they wanted. We wouldn’t participate in anything like that, and I wouldn’t ask my employees to put their lives in jeopardy.’
‘There’s a moral component,’ Koines added of the wedding. ‘It’s frustrating to hear that someone decided it was OK to do that. This is the wrong thing to do.’
The town in Martha’s Vineyard where the wedding was held or the venue have not been made public.
It was held over Columbus weekend on October 11 and was split between an indoor and outdoor event.
Officials say it complied with the state’s restrictions on event capacity – 100 people for an outdoor event and 25 people for an indoor event – but broke the travel protocol.
It is not known how many people attended the wedding but it was said to have been small.
‘As careful as people are in their daily lives, if they then take part in large gatherings, those large events can be the major driver of disease in a community,’ Boston Children’s Hospital’s Chief Innovation Officer, John Brownstein, told The Daily Beast.
‘What we know from our understanding of COVID to date is that transmission isn’t even, and there are superspreader events that can account for a large portion of cases. We’ve seen this over and over again through the pandemic. If we’re participating in large gatherings, that will keep this pandemic raging on.’
Those attendees and staff who have since tested positive are believed to have been infected by two people who attended the wedding but left the island the following day.
Officials began investigating the cluster on October 20 after one of these attendees tested positive, according to the Gazette.
‘As far as I can tell, individuals came to the wedding without following the appropriate travelers’ guidance,’ said Tisbury health agent Maura Valley.
‘The individuals involved with that had already left. So I don’t believe anybody was fined as a result of it because, unfortunately, with this type of thing, you find out about it after the fact when people start testing positive.’
It constitutes the first large instance of community spread on Martha’s Vineyard, which had avoided any major outbreak until this point.
‘We hadn’t had any real outbreaks until this one,’ Rogers told The Daily Beast. ‘We’re a small island. All the towns are connected and what affects one town affects another.’
‘All it takes is a few minutes of indiscretion, and next thing you know you’ve got an outbreak,’ he added. ‘It’s concerning. I don’t want people to be scared, but I want people to be vigilant.’
Other seasonal communities around the Cape and Islands have previously reported virus outbreaks from larges gatherings including an outbreak earlier in October stemming from a church gathering in Nantucket.
And elsewhere in Maine, a now-notorious August wedding led to to the infection of 170 people after it sparked a cluster. Eight people died who were infected by the cluster but had not attended the wedding.
‘It’s frustrating,’ Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, told the Daily Beast of the wedding.
‘We get it—we all dream of a time when we can drop the masks, hug one another, and feel normal again. But that day isn’t today—and our messaging is consistent: Martha’s Vineyard is a wonderful year-round destination, but we’ve all got to wear a mask, all day, every day, in all public spaces, for all our sakes.’
According to the MV Times, all the people linked with the wedding have now been contacted by contact tracers and have been advised of their exposure and need to be quarantined and tested.
The outbreak is being investigated by the six local health boards
‘We continue to investigate in the hopes of preventing any further spread associated with the event,’ the local board of health said in a statement.
The numbers of infections currently linked to the wedding amounts to almost ten percent of all the coronavirus cases that have been confirmed on the island since the start of the pandemic.
‘We can’t get complacent,’ Valley said.
‘So far, we’ve been good about keeping the numbers down. But you can see it out there, there are more gatherings. People are taking less precautions. And this was a good reminder that you can’t do that.’
According to the Gazette, there have been just 98 positive tests on the island since March. A further 24 people tested positive for antibodies bringing the total cases to 122.
The have been no COVID-19 related deaths on Martha’s Vineyard.
The wedding resulted in the island last week having the largest number of cases since the start of the national outbreak.
Health officials have warned that this highlights the caution that is needed at gatherings.
‘Although this outbreak is unfortunate, the wedding is only one of many public gatherings held on the Island and should also serve as a reminder that we must remain vigilant in observing COVID safety guidelines,’ a health board press release read.
‘This cluster should serve as a cautionary note for families with college and university students who will soon be returning home for the Thanksgiving holiday,’ it added.
It comes as Massachusetts continues to experience a troubling spike in cases.
On Wednesday, the state reported its fifth straight day of more than 1,000 new daily cases.
There were 1,137 news cases Wednesday and 36 new deaths, as the total case count in the state rose over 150,000.
There have been 9,700 deaths from coronavirus in Massachusetts.
It has seen hospitalizations double in the past month as the positive test rate continues to rise from its low of .8 percent in September to 1.8 percent.