Roberto Santamaria was one of the very first town officials to sound the alarm about the coronavirus’s potentially catastrophic impact on Nantucket. As the town’s director of public health, Santamaria was trained as an epidemiologist and recognized the lethal damage the virus could wreak on the island all the way back in December. Monitoring the global situation alongside Nantucket’s emergency management coordinator Brendan Coakley throughout January, Santamaria helped mobilize a meeting with the police chief, the fire chief, and the hospital on the fourth of February that set in motion the island’s preventative measures. This was at a time when there were only ten confirmed cases in the country, long before the federal or state government had acted in any significant way.
Thanks to this decisive leadership early on, Nantucket is facing a much different prognosis today than most other communities in the country. “We put so many brakes on this that instead of flattening the curve, we bulldozed it,” Santamaria said at the end of April. “The proof was in the pudding as we went twenty-two days without a case.” Santamaria has emerged as a trusted voice for the community by regularly serving as the host of Nantucket Pulse, a broadcast on NCTV made possible by the Nantucket Cottage Hospital Community Health Initiative.
Though optimistic, Santamaria insists that Nantucket’s work is hardly finished. As the island’s population prepares to surge and as the economy comes back online, the need for vigilance will be that much greater. Without a vaccine or any proven therapies, Nantucketers will need to operate with a whole playbook that Santamaria and the Town leadership are developing each day. Along with social distancing measures remaining in effect at least through the fall, Santamaria anticipates stringent policies around occupancy, workplace protocols, and civic behavior. While he sometimes faces harsh scrutiny from the business community that is eager to reopen, Santamaria has faith that Nantucket will continue to follow the guidelines designed for the health and safety of the island. “The community has come together in a way that I’ve never seen before,” Santamaria said. “They’ve come together in a way that most people in the country will probably never see.”