When the lanterns lit for Illumination night this year, the Tabernacle was packed for the first full ceremonies since the pandemic began. But one element was missing: the rousing Sousa marches and dizzying circus screamers of the Vineyard Haven Band, absent due to Covid — sort of. Despite lower infection rates and fewer severe cases, the Covid pandemic has remained a thorn in the side of Island organizers.

The Vineyard Haven Band was hampered not by a Covid outbreak but the long-term effects of a pandemic that didn’t allow all members to adequately rehearse for the big show. Disruptions from illness or fear of illness, compounded with a housing shortage that kept some players off the Island, made preparing for such a long program too difficult.

“Things were really unpredictable the whole season,” said Vineyard Haven Band director Julie Schilling, noting the band unites for solely the summer season. “We start rehearsing for Illumination Night on the first day, but during the season, people would just disappear for a week.”

Covid was also an obstacle to that other August mainstay, the Agricultural Fair, Hall Manager Janice Haynes explained. Several last-minute positive Covid tests forced experienced judges to stay home, including the bulk of the Junior Baking department, though she was able to find enough last-minute replacements to fill out the roster.

“It was definitely a bit of a last minute panic, but it all worked out in the end,” she said.

The story of Covid this summer is the story of a pandemic in the background.

“Even though people want life to go on, and even though it seems like we are moving into an endemic phase, Covid is still here and people still need to take precautions,” said Cynthia Mitchell, CEO of Island Healthcare.

Ms. Mitchell says demand for at-home tests and therapeutic drugs like Paxlovid have been steady, despite fewer reported cases.

“While I think there is not as much transmission as there was earlier in the summer, it’s really hard to get a sense of the true numbers because most people use home tests, and they don’t always report their positive results,” said Tisbury Health agent Maura Valley, who distributes a daily infection update for the Boards of Health.

According to the data collected, there were 503 positive tests in June, 411 in July and just 151 as of August 26. The CDC designates Dukes County as a “Medium Risk” area.

Despite the lower numbers, Ms. Mitchell has noted a small increase in infections among staff, with three staff members coming down with Covid in the last week. In an email, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital spokesman Marissa Lefebvre said that 43 hospital employees have tested positive since the start of July, but that “we were fortunate to not have experienced significant staffing challenges over the summer.”

Low reported infection rates were joined by manageable hospitalization levels. According to Ms. Lefebvre, 14 patients were hospitalized for Covid since the beginning of July, and one was taken off Island for treatment. There have been no deaths. Omicron BA.5, the most prominent Covid variant on-Island, is more contagious than previous variants, but typically causes less severe illness.

“The variant might change, but the mode of transmission doesn’t,” said Ms. Valley.

She encouraged visitors and residents to report their positive results to rapidtestmv.org, which helps the Board of Health to get a more complete picture of infection rates, and allows them to continue contact tracing. She also announced that, as of Sept. 2, she would be ending her daily Covid-19 update emails, sent out daily on behalf of the Boards of Health for two and a half years.

While the updates will cease, the boards of health will continue to monitor reported cases and trends and issue updates when cases appear to be on the rise or the data indicates the Island has again become an area at high risk of transmission.

While Covid flare-ups and lingering anxieties made planning for major events unpredictable, the Vineyard Haven Band still performed at its weekly gazebo concerts at Ocean Park.

“I was still so proud and impressed of our band,” Ms. Schilling said. “It was a nice finish to a kind of uncertain season.”