An impassioned plea from hospital chief Denise Schepici to ban construction for two more weeks got a sharply divided reaction Wednesday from town leaders, earning support up-Island but facing resistance from down-Island towns over the challenge of enforcing it.

The debate occurred during a civil, but tense ninety-minute teleconference held at the request of Ms. Schepici and including five town administrators, dozens of town health agents, building inspectors and other public officials, as well as state Sen. Julian Cyr.

Three Island towns — Chilmark, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs — met Tuesday to consider guidelines that would allow one and two-man construction crews to get back April 22. But the towns tabled their votes on the guidelines after receiving an 11th-hour email from Ms. Schepici seeking a meeting and calling the re-introduction of any kind of construction work a “dire mistake.”

During the summit Wednesday, Ms. Schepici reiterated her claim that April 22 was too early to relax the towns’ strict construction ban, saying epidemiologists expect a surge of cases in Boston on April 20. She asked officials to instead to delay lifting the ban until April 28th

“I’m really begging you guys to think about a one-week extension,” she said. “Social distancing will let us buy another week so we can get information, and together we can make the right decisions about what dials to turn up on — and not do this now.”

But officials in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown argued that it is becoming increasingly difficult to monitor and enforce compliance with a total bar on construction activity.

“It is about to get a lot more unsafe unless we show some leadership and provide direction to make it safer,” said Oak Bluffs selectman Brian Packish, advocating for the 22nd. “I think we’re at a point where we do need a slight pressure release. We do need a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Despite requests for unity from both Ms. Schepici and Sen. Cyr, the towns could not agree on a date.

“Unfortunately, I think we’ve come to no agreement,” said West Tisbury town administrator Jen Rand, who served as the meeting moderator, at the meeting’s close. “You all can go forward and take the votes you are going to take.”

Five of the six Island towns instituted strict construction moratoriums as part of their stay-at-home orders that block nearly all building and landscape work on construction sites. The bans initially ran to April 7 and were extended last week to April 21, with the intention for a “working group” composed of public officials and members of the construction industry to come up with guidelines that would slowly phase in limited construction thereafter.

The guidelines, presented and circulated to town officials on Tuesday, are subject to votes from the town boards of health and have to then be enacted in a vote by town selectmen. They outline social distancing, hygiene and safety protocols for one and two-man work crews, and state that travel to the site must occur via foot, bike or a single-occupancy vehicle.

As of Wednesday, only the Tisbury and Chilmark boards of health have taken votes approving the guidelines.

But discussion on Wednesday centered around the timeline to institute the guidelines, rather than the substance of the guidelines themselves. And the question of when to institute them led to broad debate, as officials weighed the economic impact of a continued work stoppage on the Island with the no-holds-barred effort to combat the virus.

Towns are set to vote on the guidelines at meetings next week.

Edgartown building inspector Reade Milne said that the purpose of the guidelines was to gradually and sensibly phase back construction, and that putting off approving them would lead to a burst of activity when stay-at-home orders were lifted. 

“If we delay it, then it’s full on. And we’re opening the floodgates entirely,” Ms. Milne said.

“We’re at the point where in Edgartown we might lose control,” Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty added.

But up-Island officials would not budge, backing Ms. Schepici’s request to delay the reintroduction of work one week.

“I can’t believe that we’re debating public health needs with work needs at this time,” West Tisbury health agent Omar Johson said, adding “If we make the wrong decision here, we cannot reverse it.”

When Chilmark selectman James Malkin asked Ms. Schepici if she felt okay with sites being limited to one worker, she remained steadfast that any construction was too much.

“I think we are kidding ourselves to think even one worker is safe,” she said.

Speaking forcefully before everyone signed off, Ms. Schepici offered even stronger parting words for the town officials unable to come to terms. 

“Shame on us, though, if we cannot all stick together for one more week,” she said. “This disease does not care about regulation. It is not complying with anything.”