The North Haven Select Board voted Sunday to ban visitors and seasonal residents immediately to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the Penobscot Bay island.

The extraordinary step was taken during a meeting March 15.

Board Chairman Jonathan Demmons said Monday morning the decision was made to try to keep people safe on the island.

The order approved by the Select Board states that "People who do not reside on the island full time may not travel to the island due to the significant increase in risk associated with the transmission of COVID-19."

Contractors who work on the island but do not live on the island may not travel to the island.

All travel to the island shall be limited to travel for “essential purposes."

The island has an estimated year-round population of 355 but that swells significantly during the summer. The town held its annual town meeting on Saturday and concerns were voiced by some residents about the impact of seasonal residents arriving, possibly carrying the new coronavirus.

Demmons said that the town is trying to determine how to enforce the order. The board chairman said town officials are contacting the Maine State Ferry Service and the Knox County Sheriff's Office to help in determining enforcement.

The order was approved because of concerns about the small medical facility on the island being overwhelmed. He said the nurse practitioner has tested two people over the weekend who have symptoms but there has been no determination yet on what the illnesses are.

The town operates the North Haven Clinic which is staffed by one nurse practitioner and is not licensed or operated as an emergency medical facility. Patients with serious emergency medical conditions, including patients with COVID-19 requiring hospitalization, must be taken to a mainland emergency medical facility by ambulance on a Maine State Ferry Service vessel.

Transporting patients who are potentially positive for the virus would leave the town without a nurse practitioner, without a lead emergency medical technician, and without its one ambulance for at least three hours, the Select Board stated in its order.

The town also has a limited supply of medical equipment, personal protective equipment, and medicine to treat potential patients.

Essential purposes as defined by the emergency order means to receive or provide medical care, to provide direct care giving to people who reside on the island; to resupply bulk food items, fuel, and other products required for human consumption, habitation, and well being; to conduct law enforcement activities, to fulfill Knox County, state, or federal obligations and to perform duties related to those obligations; and travel for other similar purposes associated with lifesaving, firefighting, and other activities related to the emergency care of persons or property.

Essential travel also includes travel to the mainland and back to North Haven Island for the purpose of obtaining groceries and other essential items.

North Haven is located 12 miles off Rockland and can be reached by daily trips by the Maine State Ferry Service which is also located in Rockland.

Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll said Monday he is asking for legal advice on enforcement of this order.

Maine Department of Transportation public information officer Paul Merrill said Monday that the ferry service continues to operate. When asked if the service would bar someone from the ferry if they are not an island resident he said "We are not a law enforcement agency."

The town has one grocery store — North Haven Grocery. J.O Brown’s operates the only gasoline pump and the only heating oil and kerosene oil truck on the island. GRM Plumbing and Heating operates the only propane gas delivery truck on the island. Penobscot Island Air is the only air carrier serving the island, including the town’s primary means of emergency medical transport.

The order also requires that anyone who has been in contact with someone with the virus must stay in their homes for at least 14 days, contact the medical center for advice; and contact the town office so food and needed supplies can be provided to them. Those who are quarantined are not to come to the medical center but contact the medical center and someone will respond in appropriate protective gear.

The board is citing state laws as giving it the authority to take such action. The laws cited were Title 30-A Maine Revised Statute, section 2635 that states the Select Board shall “as a body shall exercise all administrative and executive powers of the town” except as otherwise provided by State law; and Title 30-A, Maine Revised Statutes, section 2109 states that a municipality’s home rule authority “shall be liberally construed” to effect activities for the “welfare of the municipalities and their inhabitants."

The town administrator, Rick Lattimer, is a former judge advocate general.

On neighboring Vinalhaven — with a year-round population of about 1,100, Town Manager Andrew Dorr said no travel restrictions have been recommended.

"It has not gone unnoticed that some seasonal friends and neighbors, as well as some new faces,are heading to the island seeking social isolation or a safe place. While we may often make light of being isolated, please consider the increased risk that traveling long distances may have on our isolated island community," the town stated on its website.

He said the town is posting information on its website with factual information about steps to prevent the spread. There are no confirmed cases of the virus on the island.

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