A monthlong streak without coronavirus patients has been broken at Bar Harbor’s Mount Desert Island Hospital as visitors amid the pandemic raise problems for what is usually a bustling tourist region.
Three people, including Maine residents and visitors, tested positive there last week, adding to dozens of cases earlier in the summer. The hospital has also been taking calls from out-of-staters who got test results after coming to Maine but didn’t self-isolate.
The calls underscore a source of frustration for visitors who have to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to legally skip a mandated 14-day out-of-state visitor quarantine.
With national labs trying to keep up with a surge of coronavirus in states like Florida and Texas, people from other states closer to Maine but not exempt from the quarantine are having to wait a week or more for test results which, by the time they arrive, will be too old to be valid in Maine.
“We’ve heard anecdotally that folks have had to change plans because they have not been able to get their results,” Maine Center for Disease Control Director, Dr. Nirav Shah said.
Shah did say, however, that there are testing centers still turning results in as little as 24 hours, despite some pharmacies experiencing lag times, and that the best way someone traveling to Maine could ensure they’ll get a result in time is to “call the health care provider in advance.”
The testing delays come as American Cruise Lines, a Connecticut-based operator of small cruise vessels, is working with the Maine CDC to develop a plan to safely bring tourists to Maine ports this fall.
The vessels that would make calls in places like Bucksport and Bath are not the massive cruise ships with thousands of passengers Bar Harbor is known for hosting pre-pandemic, rather vessels meant to carry 100-190 passengers, according to cruise line spokeswoman Alexa Paolella.
The company had created a 26-page plan for municipalities to consider as they decide whether or not to allow the vessels to dock there, which, according to Bucksport Economic Development Director Richard Rotella, includes plans for ACL to repeatedly screen passengers and crew and limits on passenger numbers.
In Bucksport, the choice to allow ACL in will be approved or denied by the town council at a meeting next week.
But other places, like Bath may see the vessel stop in without residents getting a chance to weigh in.
In that city, ACL will use a dock at the Maine Maritime Museum, not a public pier.
The museum’s marketing director, Katie Spiridakis, has already said it will allow the small ships in, as long as they meet stringent safety guidelines.
However, the ultimate decision on whether or not ACL can stop anywhere rests with the Maine CDC and, right now, the agency’s director says it's requested changes and wants agreements signed between local hotels, emergency agencies and other businesses in case an outbreak occurs onboard a ship.
“Until all of those letters are in place, they don’t get Maine CDC’s sign off,” Shah said.