West Tisbury selectmen will continue to require masks in public buildings but opted against mandating vaccinations for town employees after a contingent of senior citizens raised concerns about the town’s Covid policies this week.

The mask and vaccination controversy arose two weeks ago over the Howes House, when residents expressed concern that employees of the senior center had not been vaccinated, advocating for a town vaccine mandate and looser mask requirements.

The town received substantial public correspondence on the issue and discussed the legal parameters of mask and vaccine mandates with town counsel, according to town administrator Jen Rand.

Towns have the authority to require masks in public buildings and mandate vaccinations among appointed town employees who are hired under the umbrella of the select board. Elected employees, like the town clerk, or library staff, do not fall under the purview of the select board.

While all six Island towns have instituted mask policies in their town halls, none have required employees to receive vaccinations.

At the select board meeting Wednesday, health agent Omar Johnson said the board of health had discussed the town’s mask and vaccination policy, first strongly recommending that the town continue to require masks in public buildings but noting that the board unanimously opposed a vaccination requirement among employees.

“I am in agreement with my three board members in opposing a vaccine mandate,” Mr. Johnson said. “I just do not feel that it is necessary at this juncture. It is something that we can always come back to, should we feel the need to go to what I feel is an extreme.”

But a cohort of town residents adamantly disagreed, saying among other things that wearing masks was onerous for exercise classes held indoors at the senior center. They argued that a vaccine mandate was a simpler solution.

“Public opinion is very, very strong . . . that all people in contact with the public are vaccinated. It’s an easy step. It just takes so much of the worry out,” said Cathy Minkiewicz.

Linda Vadasz said she would not go to the senior center unless vaccines were mandated among staff, saying she had an 11-year-old granddaughter she wanted to keep safe. “I will not go into the Howes House until I know that everyone is vaccinated. It’s too risky,” Ms. Vadasz said.

Susan Silk said she had spoken with a donor to the council on aging who said they would no longer be contributing.

“There’s ramifications here to the policy that you’ve adopted,” Ms. Silk said. “And I think those of us who have spent the time to be on this meeting want you to understand that you have room here to come up with a different plan. And that would show us that the needs and the concerns of the elderly are important to you. And I’m disappointed.”

In the end board members sided with Mr. Johnson, saying they had persevered through the pandemic in part by being in lock step with board of health guidance.

Board chairman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd, also noted that a vaccine mandate would not apply to all town employees, causing complications.

“Having two different policies for two different sets of employees is difficult to adopt,” Mr. Manter said.

Board member Cynthia Mitchell, who is also the executive director of Island Health Care, said she felt requiring vaccines was unnecessary, considering the Vineyard had not seen a new positive Covid-19 case in nearly two weeks. She added that vaccines were not required among IHC staff, and masking precautions minimized risk.

“It’s not necessary. I think the risk is extremely low at this point,” Ms. Mitchell said. “If we mandated employees to be vaccinated, it doesn’t solve the problem of people walking in the building who may or may not be vaccinated.”

After discussion, including support from personnel board member Jim Klingensmith, selectmen voted unanimously not to require vaccines among town employees.

“We’ve had some good discussion here,” Mr. Manter said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

In other business the board voted to accept a $60,000 donation from the West Tisbury Library Foundation, thanking the organization and calling the donation extremely generous.

Mr. Manter accepted the donation “with great gratitude.”