News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 12, 2020 and Island Ad-Vantages, March 12, 2020 and The Weekly Packet, March 12, 2020
Island Nursing Home locks down amid COVID-19 concern
Better safe than sorry, says director

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by Leslie Landrigan

Though COVID-19, Coronavirus, has not reached Maine as of Wednesday March 11, all over the peninsula and islands, precautions are being taken against a possible outbreak.

The Island Nursing Home and Care Center started to restrict visits on Tuesday, March 10, Director Matthew Trombley said in a phone interview.

“Between two and three o’clock, we notified families that we are limiting visitation to those that are medically necessary, or if we have a [needed] repair,” Trombley said.

“It’s just better to be safe than sorry,” he said, adding the Island Nursing Home has not had a case of flu in three years.

Trombley said the nursing home began screening all visitors on March 2, five days ahead of recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Andrew Sankey, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, said he’s getting daily briefings from the Maine CDC. In turn, Hancock County EMA provides guidance to 37 municipalities, police, fire, emergency medical services, dispatch, corrections, long-term care facilities and the three hospitals along with their affiliated clinics.

Local libraries, theaters and stores are monitoring the situation, stepping up hand hygiene and housekeeping, telling staff to self-quarantine if they’re sick and keeping a close eye on Maine CDC guidelines.

Maine CDC “is very actively engaged in this and managing the situation and conveying and relaying information,” Sankey said.

Wash your hands

At Parker Ridge there’s a sign on the door that says, “If you have these symptoms, don’t come in,” said Executive Director Tim Chandler.

Parker Ridge is an assisted living facility, not a nursing home, and is not locking down, Chandler said.

Still, Parker Ridge is doubling down on housekeeping and limiting group visits, especially groups of children, he said.

Though flu is a bigger risk right now than COVID-19, “this is being taken very, very seriously,” Chandler said.

Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital is continuing to prepare for the potential arrival of COVID-19 in Maine, according to Patti Patterson King, Northern Light spokesperson.

“We have stood up an incident command system at the local level to manage our preparedness and ensure that we can react quickly and in a coordinated manner,” she wrote in an email. “A similar structure is in place at Northern Light Health to support our local efforts.”

The most important precaution the Memorial Ambulance Corps is taking is hand washing, said Karen Vickerson, an advanced EMT with the ambulance. “We are strongly enforcing our policy regarding gloves, gowns, masks and hand washing,” she said.

Ambulance workers are wearing gowns when dealing with any patient who has a fever or respiratory problems, she said. And they use medical sanitizer on their hands after every patient, she said.

Public places

Opera House Arts Executive Director Per Janson said theater staff are washing their hands frequently, disinfecting every surface daily and making hand sanitizer available to the public.

“A couple of staff members say their hands are raw,” said Janson.

The CDC has cautioned the elderly and people with medical conditions to avoid crowds, such as in movie theaters and church. But Janson pointed out that average film attendance this time of year is about 35 people a night in a house that seats 250.

“It is usually still possible to sit apart. But health and safety come first, and we respect everyone’s individual decision on whether or not to attend public events. If you are feeling sick, we encourage you to stay home,” Janson said.

Blue Hill Public Library Director Rich Boulet said he was offered an elbow bump rather than a handshake on Monday.

“I did reciprocate in the elbow-bumping department,” Boulet said. Meanwhile, the library’s cleaning crew has been asked to focus on cleaning all touch points such as keyboards, doorknobs and phones.

The library is out of disinfecting wipes but has them on order, Boulet said. When they arrive, library staff will disinfect books upon their return.

“We‘re going to take our cues from CDC, but so far it’s business as usual,” Boulet said.

The Surry Store on Tuesday had only five 1 oz. bottles of hand sanitizer, said owner Donna Archer. “We’re washing hands more, we’re gloving more, just being very careful,” Archer said.

TradeWinds Markets General Manager Josh Theriault said the store managed to buy and stock 480 bottles of hand sanitizer on Friday. Partway through Sunday, all were sold.

Theriault expects continued shortages of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. “Anything that says “Kills 99 percent of bacteria on it” is very hard to come by,” he said.

Les Weed, chief financial officer at the Island Employee Cooperative, wrote in an email that hand sanitizer is a “no go” from all his suppliers. Amazon and Walmart are out of alcohol, he wrote, so the chances of finding it are very low.

“We do still have toilet paper in the stores right now, though!” he wrote on Wednesday, March 11.

Schools and towns

School Union 93 is at the precaution stage, wrote Superintendent Mark Hurvitt in a memo to parents and staff on March 5. The district is emphasizing hand washing, sanitizing the schools and talking with families who have come back from airline trips.

If the virus is confirmed in Hancock County, school nurses April Chapman in Blue Hill and Jenny Pert in Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot and Surry will contact the Maine CDC for instructions, Hurvitt wrote.

Teachers, he wrote, can start making up plans for substitutes.

“Because most people with COVID-19 have mild disease, the likelihood that we will be closing schools is low, but not zero,” he wrote. But parents and guardians should plan to have someone care for their child if it does happen.

Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher was looking forward to taking his first vacation in several years as soon as Town Meeting ended. But vacation meant flying to Florida, so he canceled the trip. Now he’s taking precautions at the town office.

In Stonington, Town Manager Kathleen Billings is anticipating staff shortages because people will have to self quarantine even if they just get a cold. She sent the road crew to the transfer station to find out how everything works over there. Other staff is learning to cover each other’s responsibilities.

“I may be up at the dump,” she said.

Billings is making sure there are enough keys for everything and passwords are available. She told staff if they do anything that has to do with COVID-19 prevention to mark it down on their time slips. There may be federal reimbursement for it, she said.

Billings advised people to see if their elderly neighbors need anything. “Now’s the time to be checking on them and keep them in your thoughts,” she said.

Island Nursing Home

At the Island Nursing Home, Trombley said he doesn’t think the visitor restrictions will last more than a few weeks.

One reason he’s been trying to stay ahead of CDC recommendations is that he thinks the COVID-19 epidemic may have been underreported. The Chinese government is downplaying the spread of the disease, he said

“We’re starting to get more information from Italy,” he said. “Italy is much more transparent.”

The nursing home has installed special hand sanitizers, stepped up housekeeping and gone over hygiene basics with staff, he said.

He said the response to visitor restrictions has been quite positive. Residents will still be able to video conference with families and friends using Zoom or Facebook, he said.

“A lot of the families thanked me for putting the restriction in place,” he said. “They’re happy we’re proactive.”

But, he said, he doesn’t want to cause any fear or panic.

“We note we have no influenza or COVID-19 in the building,” he said.

CDC guidance on hand washing:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

CDC guidance on high-risk populations:

If you are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, you should stock up on supplies. Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others. When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often. Avoid crowds as much as possible. Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel. During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.