Nantucket Board Of Health Backs Away From Occupancy Limits On Businesses

During an emergency meeting Thursday morning, the Nantucket Board of Health declined to take any action on potential occupancy limits on island businesses that had been under consideration to slow the spread of Nantucket’s summer outbreak of COVID-19 being fueled by the Delta variant.

Nantucket Health Department Director Roberto Santamaria told the board that he was not recommending any new restrictions, sharing the latest island wastewater sampling data which revealed a slight decline in virus concentration in Nantucket sewage.

The lower virus concentration combined with a smaller population estimate (based on water use), reduced the expected number of daily new COVID-19 cases on Nantucket from 40 to 10.

“We should wait at least another meek, maybe two, and see where the sewer data is going,” Santamaria said. 

“I’m conflicted about this,” said Board of Health member Malcolm MacNab, who had previously expressed support for occupancy limits. “Maybe we look for another week of the septic numbers. But we’re biased trying to find good news. I’m not sure that little downward tick is good news or just variability.”

Meanwhile, demand for testing has been high amid the island’s COVID-19 outbreak. The Health Department distributed 3,000 rapid antigen tests in the last 10 days, Santamaria said, mostly to island restaurants which have experienced a number of voluntary closures over the past week due to staff members testing positive or exposures. 

“We’re officially out” of tests, Santamaria said “We’re still waiting for the state to give us more.”

While it took no action on occupancy limits, the Board of Health did vote to amend its recent emergency order that imposed an island-wide indoor mask requirement. The board added language that would allow the Health Department to levy fines on businesses, not just individuals, for any violations of the mask order. It also defined what is considered an indoor space – any enclosed structure where the interior is enclosed by 50 percent or more – to get at the question of whether large event tents with the flaps closed constituted an indoor area that would require masks.

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