Town officials urge people not to visit during national outbreak

North Haven reverses travel ban

By Stephen Betts | Mar 19, 2020

North Haven — North Haven officials have rescinded its unprecedented order to prohibit non-residents from coming to the Penobscot Bay Island.

Town Administrator Rick Lattimer said Thursday that the Board voted March 17 to rescind the order it approved March 15 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to North Haven.

The Select Board, however, approved a resolution urging visitors to hold off coming to the island because of the lack of health care resources if an outbreak were to occur in the community.

Lattimer said the Board rescinded the order after an attorney in the administration of Gov. Janet Mills informed the town that only the governor has the authority to restrict travel in the state and that her power supersedes any authority that town officials have.

In addition, town officials received a lot of input from residents and non-residents. The advice was positive and suggested the town re-word its order in to a request.

There has been no influx of seasonal residents to the island since the virus began spreading significantly in other parts of the country, the town administrator said.

The town is working on a case-by-case basis with contractors before they arrive in town. He said, for example, Spectrum is welcome to come to the island and maintain the cable lines but the company is being asked not to perform in-house connections where there would be person-to-person contact. The exception would be if a student needs to have service to do school work. In those cases, steps would be taken to make sure contact is minimal and no one has signs of illness.

The island has an estimated year-round population of 355 but swells significantly during the summer. The town held its annual town meeting March 14, and concerns were voiced by some residents about the impact of seasonal residents arriving, possibly carrying the new coronavirus.

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.

Lattimer sent a letter to Gov. Mills March 19 explaining why the town took the action it did. He said the action was not taken because residents dislike seasonal residents or are afraid of them but because of the health concerns for a small community.

The resolution adopted Tuesday "strongly encourage people who are on the island or considering traveling to the island refrain from traveling away from the places where you are currently living -- whether that is on North Haven or elsewhere -- and that if you reside in places with better access to medical care than North Haven can provide you should refrain from traveling to the island. In addition, the Select Board is encouraging that all travel to the island should be limited to travel for “essential purposes."

The initial ban and the current advisory resolution were approved because of concerns about the small medical facility on the island being overwhelmed.

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, the town has pointed out.

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.

The March 19 letter to the governor also makes several recommendations to make the spread of the virus less likely on the ferry system. Those recommendations include trying to have passengers remain in their vehicles, limit the number of passengers in the cabins, and discouraging use of the restrooms on the ferry.

Lattimer said he has taken steps personally to reduce visitors to the island. He has encouraged friends and relatives who have lived their entire lives on the island but happen to be wintering in Florida to remain in Florida for the time being. He said he told his sister and her husband to remain on Cape Cod and not come up this weekend for a a relative's birthday, and he has told his adult children in Massachusetts and Virginia to remain there rather than come to North Haven.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Mar 20, 2020 11:10

I would like to praise town administrator Rick Lattimer for his efforts to protect the residents of North Haven.  In this "me first" generation far to little attention is focused on the "common good" .  The careless thought of " I want to attend my relative's birthday"  supercedes the thought of my presence may infect an entire island or worse cause the death of an elderly citizen.  If we all spent more time considering how our actions affect the lives of others around us, we could make this a better world for everyone.

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