Coronavirus Pandemic Prompts Maine Island to Ban Visitors

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As of Thursday, Maine has 52 COVID-19 cases.

As the illness spreads, one of the state's islands is taking extreme precautions.

Late Sunday, leaders on North Haven, which has about 350-375 year-round residents, voted to ban anyone who isn't a full-time islander from going there.

The reason for the strict measure is to prevent coronavirus from overwhelming the island's first responders.

"We just don't have the infrastructure to handle something like this," said Erin Cooper, the ambulance director for North Haven EMS.

Cooper says the decision simply comes down to resources.

With only one nurse practitioner on the island and limited ability to fly a COVID-19 patient off the island by airplane, the preferred method for emergency transport, a positive virus case requiring hospitalization would essentially leave the island without emergency services for hours while an ambulance transports a patient on a ferry.

"Our only ambulance, with all our EMS equipment in it, leaves the island for upwards of four to eight hours, depending on the situation," said Cooper, who acknowledged many in North Haven's summer community are not happy with the decision.

"All we're trying to do is keep the community safe and keep an outbreak from happening here because that could be pretty catastrophic," she said.

Meanwhile, on the mainland, other precautions are being taken to keep islanders safe.

The Maine State Ferry Service is no longer physically verifying tickets, but instead just looking at them.

It is also scrubbing down vessels including tables, sinks and seats before every departure.

Penobscot Island Air, which typically carries mail, groceries and islanders around, is also disinfecting aircraft regularly and conducting health screenings on passengers before they board aircraft.

"We have a protocol sheet of what we're looking to ask the customers," said the airline's owner, Kevin Waters, who added it had cut back on passenger and contractor service to North Haven and is focused on delivering freight and mail there right now.

Waters admitted the decline in revenue from COVID-19 is causing some financial hurt.

He has scaled back 35 daily flights to just 12 and made staffing adjustments, but he says uncertainty about the virus' impact on summer travel is causing some unease.

"For the next month, I budgeted, but then you have to make choices," he said. "It's a tough time of year now, this doesn't help things."

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