Cronig’s Market will close for the weekend after three employees tested positive for the virus this week, owner Steve Bernier said Friday.

The staple Island grocery store in Vineyard Haven closed its doors at 3 p.m. on Friday and will remain shuttered until Monday morning at 7 a.m., Mr. Bernier told the Gazette by phone. The store will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected while closed, he said.

The store’s up-Island branch has been closed since the onset of the pandemic.

Mr. Bernier said he made the decision to close early Friday afternoon, after a third employee at the store tested positive for Covid that morning. The closure aims to limit any further exposure and enforce a period of separation between customers, employees and any other shop visitors, he said. Announcement of the closure was posted on the market's Facebook page.

“It just became a necessary evil, so to speak because we don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with and how to deal with it and this is the only solution I thought that was appropriate,” said Mr. Bernier. “Inconvenient, I understand, but we needed to do something.”

Cases have spiked on the Island since early October, with health officials reporting the largest two-week rise in cases since the pandemic began and suggesting that the Island is experiencing community spread for the first time.

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Tisbury health agent Maura Valley said that DPH guidelines did not require the store to close, but that the boards of health endorsed Mr. Bernier’s decision.

“Steve and I have been talking the past couple of days about cleaning and all of that, and closing seemed to be the most prudent decision,” Ms. Valley said. “It was actually a decision that Steve came to, which I agreed with.”

Two of the store’s three recent virus cases were announced earlier this week on Thursday, in a statement on the store’s Facebook page.

Based on preliminary contact tracing, Mr. Bernier did not believe that any of the three cases were linked. He also said that none of the employees seemed to have contracted the virus at the store itself, noting that all three employees were likely exposed externally.

Ms. Valley said that she had coordinated with state health officials and agreed that the individuals likely did not contact the virus from one another.

“We still don’t think that the three individuals are connected,” Ms. Valley said. “Speaking with epidemiology, it was felt that there was not enough evidence that it was a cluster.”

Due to the nature of their work at the store, Mr. Bernier said that all three employees hold customer-facing positions, but said he did not believe any customers had been exposed. The employees were lightly symptomatic at the time of testing, he said, but each left work once they registered symptoms.

“I don’t think any of it affected a customer, I don’t think any of it affected another employee,” said Mr. Bernier, adding: “The time window you have to work through to go another four or five days to be able to come back and say anything with any degree of certainty, make this very difficult to deal with.”

Ms. Valley said that the positive tests had been received on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday respectively, and that an employee who tested positive has not been in the store since Monday.

Officials from the boards of health are in the process of contacting close contacts of the infected individuals, Mr. Bernier and Ms. Valley said. Staff members at the grocery are also being screened, with about 95 per cent of Cronig’s staff tested as of 4 p.m. Friday.

As cases continue to spike across the Island, Mr. Bernier said he plans to monitor the situation and take each day accordingly.

“I’m concerned with how this past week is gone,” said Mr. Bernier. “We’ve been doing this for seven months, all of a sudden it’s different…same people, same procedures, same cleaning processes, same customers. And all of a sudden we’re on a different page.”