For Islanders over age 65, the Covid-19 pandemic carries extra risks — not only of potentially fatal infection, but from loneliness, financial insecurity and depression.

“There’s a real issue around social isolation,” said Cindra Trish, executive director of the advocacy group Healthy Aging MV. It’s a nationwide problem, Ms. Trish said, but amplified on the Vineyard, where close to a third of the year-round population is 65 or older.

Using town street lists, Healthy Aging MV counted 5,633 Island seniors in 2019, a number projected to grow by 35 per cent over the next decade, to more than 7,600. Even in Chilmark and Aquinnah, where town populations are expected to dwindle in the next 10 years, the number of elderly year-round residents is rising, Ms. Trish said.

“We’re not going away,” she said. “More people are moving here. It’s a sizable minority.”

Many Island seniors are in the work force, Ms. Trish said, earning income as retail clerks, snack bar staff on Steamship Authority ferries, bus drivers and in other jobs. But much of this work is tourism-related and has been reduced or eliminated due to the pandemic, with the future uncertain.

“Unemployment is a big concern,” Ms. Trish said.

Along with working for pay, seniors have been the backbone of volunteer efforts on the Vineyard. “The majority of volunteers on this Island are between 60 and 75,” Ms. Trish said. But the pandemic has led a number of them to step back from their volunteer work, she added.

Fear of contracting Covid-19 is also keeping older people at home as the summer season brings more visitors to the Island, many of them unmasked.

“I think there is a generalized concern about practices not being followed, and just kind of a sense of . . . vulnerability,” she said. “I think that adds to the social isolation.”

With traditional gathering places like the town councils on aging and the Center for Living in Vineyard Haven closed since March, and counseling services available only online or by phone, reaching out to isolated Island seniors has been a complicated challenge. Hearing loss can impede telemedicine appointments and video conferences, like the ones the Center for Living hosts for its online clients. Seniors with no hardware or internet connection are left out.

“Nationally, for seniors there is definitely a digital divide in terms of access (and) the ability to connect up with like-minded groups, family and friends,” Ms. Trish said.

A wave of ageism in the national media, as younger commentators complain about coronavirus restrictions and suggest that elders are expendable, has ratcheted up the anxiety. Lyndsay Famariss, coordinator for the Counseling Outreach and Referrals for the Elderly (CORE) program at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, said the topic comes up frequently in phone conversations with clients.

But real-world assistance, such as food, is reaching elderly Islanders as never before, as the Island Food Pantry, St. Augustine’s and other food services and churches expand their delivery routes.

“The general sense I’ve heard from seniors is how touched they’ve been by what they see as the concern of the Island,” Ms. Trish said.

“I’ve been amazed by the amount of resources that have been made available,” she said. “I think we’ve been a very responsive Island in the things that we can do.”

Hired in March as Healthy Aging MV’s first executive director, Ms. Trish is charged with advocating for Island seniors’ needs and partnering with agencies that can carry out programs to meet those needs. For those facing job loss, she said, Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands has a senior employment program she’d like to reactivate on the Vineyard.

She also is focusing on a set of priorities that include advance care planning, so seniors don’t have medical decisions made for them by others, and a housing modification program to help elderly people stay in their homes longer.

Improved transportation options, perhaps in partnership with a ride-share company, and closing the digital divide are also on her list.

“There are going to be new challenges,” Ms. Trish said. “We just have to be creative in how we address them . . . We’ve got a boatload of people on this Island who care.”