Thirty-two years ago, Maura Valley came to visit a friend on Martha’s Vineyard one May weekend. She met his roommate, moved here, married the roommate, and later found steady work at the Tisbury board of health where she now holds the top job as health agent for the town. Speaking with the South Boston native, one can see clearly that she has enormous gratitude for her life on the Island and is dedicated to helping keep her fellow Islanders healthy.

Q. What did you want to be growing up?

A. Honestly, when I was younger I thought I wanted to be a police officer. But then I was told, “You’re a girl, you’re good at science, you should become a nurse.”

Q. And did you?

A. No. I went to Northeastern University’s School of Nursing, but I didn’t finish because of financial issues.

Q. So then what?

A. I worked at Liberty Mutual for a while and then moved over to Boston Financial Data Services and worked as a customer service manager for T. Rowe Price mutual funds. And then I told my mother that I was moving to Martha’s Vineyard and she said, “I give you about six months. You’re a city girl.” And that was 32 years ago.

Q. Did you have a hard time adjusting to living here?

A. No, not really. I kind of fell into it and really liked it – the small community, knowing your neighbors. It’s more intimate here. And I’m still married!

Q. So what did you then do for work?

A. Most of that time, I’ve been working for the Tisbury board of health. I started working for the town of Tisbury in 1990. I took the job as the secretary for the Tisbury board of health and did that for many years; and the town reorganized the department and created the position of assistant health agent. I was promoted to that position and held it for several years. The health agent retired and I moved into that spot in 2015.

Q. What was it about the job that attracted you?

A. It’s strange. I didn’t really say, “I want to work for the board of health.” But it was a town job, a good steady job. Then I just discovered that it really interested me! Getting into public health issues seemed to be something I was good at, and I really liked helping people too. You know, sometimes you just kind of find your fit, and it seems like I did that with this job.

Q. What issues took up your time pre-Covid?

Maura, working at the TestMV site, noted that the boards of health had developed a drive-in testing plan even before the pandemic hit. Jeanna Shepard

A. General things; there were a lot of septic issues, inspections, perc tests, poor housing issues, a few hoarding complaints thrown in. It was really just routine.

Q. And now, how has that changed?

A. Oh now it’s just Covid 24/7! I quickly realized, oh, this is going to be something more than when we first heard about it. And then we were just thrown right into it and trying to plan for the unknown. We didn’t know how bad this was going to get, how long this was going to last.

Q. What helped?

A. I have to say, this Island has a great team of health agents. The boards of health, Island-wide, just work so well together. Early on, we got together and said we need to talk regularly and have a plan, Island-wide, because you just can’t look at this as individual towns. And it really worked well. We looked at what each agent’s strengths were and kind of divided up the responsibilities.

Q. We’ve been relatively safe here, but I am sure that like all of us, you saw summer as the great unknown, right?

A. Yes. At first we weren’t sure what this summer was going to look like. Would people still travel? Were they still going to come here? We had had an influx of seasonal property owners early on. People wanted to come here to get away from the cities where it was much worse. The cases remained pretty steady – and then the summer season came on full force.

Q. And cases went up, no?

A. We’ve had a lot more cases come up, but I think that has a lot to do with more people being here and being tested. We have a lot of seasonal workers coming here, getting tested before they start work. So even though the numbers are going up because of that, it’s a good thing because we’re catching these people who maybe don’t have any symptoms but are positive. We can isolate and quarantine them and get in touch with their contacts and hopefully keep it from spreading any further.

Q. What are you most worried about?

A. I have been worried about a surge because of the influx of people. Not knowing what to expect is tough. We’re really pushing the [TestMV] testing site to get as many people tested as possible. And then really trying to enforce the mask requirement and social distancing. There are just so many things to look at and enforce and to try to get people to buy into that it can become difficult.

Q. What motivates you to get up every morning?

A. I have no choice? Ha! No, over the years we’ve done emergency planning, pandemic planning. It was for a situation like this. Many years ago we started doing our seasonal flu vaccination clinics using a drive-through model, because we thought that would be a good model to practice in the event that we did have some kind of pandemic. We came up with this big plan and we used it as a drill. So when this came up and the chance to do drive-by testing arose, we said, “Oh, we have that plan in place.”

Q. What gives you the greatest satisfaction?

A. I think we feel that we’re helping people and keeping them healthy. Sometimes people don’t like everything we say and do so you feel like you get beat up a bit. But I think just knowing in my heart that I am doing what I believe is best to try and protect the health and safety of the people in this town and on the Island is very satisfying. Paula Lyons is a former ABC and CBS television consumer journalist. She lives in Vineyard Haven.