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Nantucket residents call the island’s COVID contact tracer to ‘rat’ on each other

Residents of the wealthy New England enclave of Nantucket are turning on each other after a COVID-19 outbreak on the prestigious island.

Nantucket’s normal year-round population is 11,000 people, living on a 13-mile island located 30 miles south of Cape Cod.

As of June 2020, the average home value was about $2.9 million, according to an analysis by a local real estate company.

The population has soared during the pandemic as people flee large cities and are able to work from home, and an estimated 18,000 people are currently believed to be on the island, where Tommy Hilfiger and Jerry Stiller owned houses, and the Kardashians have vacationed. The Kennedy family’s compound in Hyannis is just across the water; the Obamas have bought a $12 million home on neighboring Martha’s Vineyard.

Initially during the pandemic the island was relatively spared.

Nantucket’s pristine shores were initially spared by COVID, but now the virus is out in force

Elizabeth Harris, in charge of contact tracing, said she received calls 'ratting' on neighbors

Elizabeth Harris, in charge of contact tracing, said she received calls ‘ratting’ on neighbors 

That has changed in recent weeks, and now the inhabitants are blaming each other.

‘I get rat phone calls where people will be like: ‘I know that so and so is positive, and they’re at work and they’re driving around without a mask,’ said Elizabeth Harris, a nurse working at the local hospital in Nantucket who is in charge of investigating COVID-19 cases on the island.

She told The Daily Beast: ‘And I say, you know, ‘you should call a board of health about that.’

‘There’s a lot of stigma about this whole thing. And a lot of people get really upset.’

Cases begun spiking around Thanksgiving, and during the week of December 14 Nantucket reached a test positivity rate of 13.1 per cent – one of the highest in the country.

Doctors at the only hospital on the island transferred several individuals to Boston hospitals via helicopter, the site reported.

A sign requesting that people wear masks is posted at the Sandbar at Jetties Beach in July

A sign requesting that people wear masks is posted at the Sandbar at Jetties Beach in July

The island's sole hospital flew some patients to Boston via helicopter and fears overcrowding

The island’s sole hospital flew some patients to Boston via helicopter and fears overcrowding

Dr Diane Pearl, Nantucket Cottage Hospital’s chief medical officer, said the spike in cases had been ‘astronomical’.

‘We thought we were out of the woods and then in September we had a big rush right after the Labor Day weekend,’ she said.

‘And that happened to be in some of our contractors and people who were painters, plumbers – people who are in the construction trades and landscaping. We think it was from maybe letting down the guard at the end of the summer.

‘After that we saw a little spike, which we thought was impressive at that time, but we were naive.

‘After that we had a surge right around Thanksgiving which has been pretty astronomical.’

People have taken to making accusations against each other on Facebook, The Daily Beast reported, and Harris said that she had been left frustrated by the attitudes of some on the island.

‘Sometimes I call people and they’re so dismissive,’ she said.

‘And I can hear a saw in the background and I’m like: ‘Are you at home or are you at work?’

‘And they just keep saying: ‘Yeah, I tested positive but I’m fine.’ 

On one of the island’s local Facebook pages, The Daily Beast reported, residents began to blame their neighbors for contributing to the community spread. 

In a recent post about the rising number of cases on Nantucket, one user said the numbers were ‘inflated.’

‘The scheme is for more positive tests for more federal money,’ the person said. 

Another user urged people to ‘keep more than’ six feet from one named person. 

People called out others on Facebook for appearing maskless in public spaces and demanded officials penalize local businesses whose employees did not follow public health guidelines, the site reported.

There is only one hospital on the island, which is usually home to 11,000 people year-round

There is only one hospital on the island, which is usually home to 11,000 people year-round

As of June 2020, the average home value on Nantucket was about $2.9 million

As of June 2020, the average home value on Nantucket was about $2.9 million

There have only been four COVID-related deaths, according to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, and the current seven-day positivity rate has dipped to 5.3 per cent.

Yet the authorities remain deeply concerned, and issued warnings on social media in the run-up to Christmas urging people to be careful.

The hospital released a statement on December 5, just as the surge was emerging, calling for calm and unity.

‘Now is not the time to panic or point fingers,’ the statement said.

Jason Graziadei, the public information officer for Nantucket Cottage Hospital, said that the small size of their community meant that there were concerns about people blaming each other for the outbreak.

‘We’ve struggled with this – the privacy concerns,’ he told the site.

‘From the hospital’s perspective, but from the board of health as well, where is that line: the need for transparency for the sake of public health, versus privacy in a small town?

‘In larger towns and cities, public health officials will say this business had a positive patient and they are closed. Whereas here I think the public health director is trying to be transparent but not maybe to the level that would be disclosing things that could get people identified.

‘It’s sink or swim for many businesses. Once someone is named, that restaurant could just be out of business.’


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