Update, Tuesday, March 17: LincolnHealth has updated its visitation policy for its Miles Campus in Damariscotta and St. Andrews Campus in Boothbay Harbor, beginning at 11 a.m., Monday, March 16, to prevent community spread of the coronavirus.
Visiting hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. There is a limit of one visitor per patient for inpatient and ambulatory care. No one under the age of 18 will be permitted into the hospital, as persons in that age group can carry the coronavirus and not show symptoms, according to the statement.
There are exceptions for patients receiving end-of-life care.
The main entrance will serve as the single entrance for the Miles Campus hospital, the Watson Health Center, and the urgent care clinic. No visitors are currently allowed at LincolnHealth’s senior living facilities.
All visitors will be screened upon entering one of LincolnHealth’s facilities, according to the statement. Visitors will be asked a series of screening questions, including whether they have a fever, a new cough in the last 14 days, shortness of breath, a sore throat, or a runny nose.
“Individuals will also be asked if they have been in close proximity with someone who is currently sick with COVID-19 or any other respiratory illness within the past 14 days. Sick individuals may be asked to leave or be redirected to an appropriate point of care,” the statement reads.
Update, Tuesday, March 17: The Bristol Board of Selectmen met in emergency session and agreed to limit the annual town meeting to the minimum possible time and the minimum number of people, consistent with funding the basic operations of the town from those articles that were unanimously recommended by the Bristol Budget Committee.
The selectmen would like to inform residents that it is essential to continue operations of essential services, including Bristol Fire and Rescue and the Bristol-South Bristol Transfer Station, as the authority from last year’s annual town meeting is expiring, and must be renewed at this annual town meeting.
Articles that were recommended unanimously will be handled with a single motion. All articles on which there have been differing views will be debated in full at a future date, once the COVID-19 threat has passed. The selectmen ask that residents who are vulnerable to COVID-19, including those over 70 years old or with existing health issues, to please stay home for tonight’s meeting.
Selectman Chad Hanna was reelected by a write-in vote.
Update, 7:30 p.m., Monday, March 16: A man in his 40s who works as a nurse at LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus in Damariscotta has tested presumptive positive for COVID-19, LincolnHealth announced on Monday, March 16. This is the second case in Lincoln County and the first tested through LincolnHealth campuses.
Dr. Russ Mack, former chief medical officer and special consultant at LincolnHealth, said in a phone interview on Monday that based on the circumstances, it appears the person contracted the virus in Maine, outside of work.
The person exhibited no symptoms, but suspected he may have been exposed to the coronavirus in Maine and requested a test, Mack said.
The nurse only treated one patient before self-quarantining, according to a statement from LincolnHealth.
Mack said about 30 people have been tested for COVID-19 so far between the two LincolnHealth’s campuses, Miles and St. Andrews in Boothbay Harbor. The hospital has approximately 140 test kits currently on hand.
Tests are currently being conducted while patients remain in their vehicles behind LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus emergency room, Mack said.
Test results from NorDx Laboratories in Scarborough are usually received within eight hours or the next day, Mack said.
All persons undergoing testing are being directed to self-quarantine until results are received.
Mack urged residents to first call their primary care physician to receive consultation about a test. A doctor’s note is needed to be given a test for COVID-19.
Robert Long, spokesperson for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said by email that the agency “would be in touch with anyone who came into close contact with an individual who tests positive to determine if those individuals should be tested or self-quarantine.”
Update, Monday, March 16: The Bremen, Damariscotta, and Newcastle town offices are either closed or closing to the public; more public schools and several private schools have closed; and Nobleboro has postponed its annual town meeting, which had been scheduled for Saturday, March 21.
Bristol still plans to hold its annual town meeting at Bristol Consolidated School at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 17, although the Bristol Board of Selectmen will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the subject and other coronavirus-related issues. The selectmen’s meeting is public, but the town advises all to “stay home if sick and practice the proper basic hygiene,” according to a post on the town website.
The Bremen town office is closed and a selectmen’s meeting and budget committee meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 19 have been postponed.
The Damariscotta town office will be closed to public access starting Tuesday.
The Newcastle town office and fire station are closed to the public for two weeks.
Staff continue to report to work and conduct business at all three town offices, where they are available by email and phone.
RSU 2 and RSU 12 schools are closed for two weeks.
The Damariscotta Montessori School in Nobleboro is closed until further notice.
Coastal Christian School in Waldoboro is closed until April 17.
The Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb is closed for two weeks and will reevaluate at the end of that time.
Wiscasset Christian Academy is closed for two weeks.
Chewonki Elementary and Middle School in Wiscasset is closed until Friday, March 20. The Chewonki Foundation’s Maine Coast Semester program will delay the return of students until April 5.
The Juniper Hill School for Place-based Education, in Alna, is closed for at least two weeks.
Little House School in Damariscotta will not have in-person classes until after April 27.
The Lincoln County News invites town offices and schools to report up-to-date information on closures by email to email@example.com.
Update, Sunday evening: Lincoln County has its first presumptive positive test for COVID-19, in a health care worker in her 30s.
“Her employer has been contacted and steps have been taken to reduce exposure to patients, staff, and other community members,” the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. “She is isolated at home.”
The statement did not identify the employer.
Maine now has seven confirmed and five presumptive positive tests for the disease caused by the new coronavirus, according to the Maine CDC.
Update, Sunday, March 15: AOS 93 schools will close for two weeks; AOS 98 schools will close until April 27; Lincoln Academy will close for a week while it transitions to virtual instruction, which will continue until April 27; RSU 40 schools will close through April 17; and Wiscasset schools will close for two weeks.
The moves are in response to concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus and follow announcements of school closures across the state. Maine has three presumptive positive and three preliminary positive cases as of Saturday. The presumptive positive patients live in Androscoggin County and Cumberland County.
Damariscotta-based AOS 93 has five elementary schools: Bristol Consolidated School, Great Salt Bay Community School, Jefferson Village School, Nobleboro Central School, and South Bristol School.
AOS 93, in a message to parents Sunday afternoon, said it would share more information Monday.
Boothbay Harbor-based AOS 98 consists of Boothbay Region Elementary School, Boothbay Region High School, Edgecomb Eddy School, and Southport Central School in Lincoln County, plus Georgetown Central School in Sagadahoc County.
“Administrators and teachers will report to work on Monday as normal,” AOS 98 Superintendent Keith Laser said in a post on the district website Sunday afternoon. “We will be developing plans for remote learning opportunities and will distribute that plan as soon as we are adequately prepared. I envision that we will be in a position to offer educational services by the end of the week.”
District officials will meet with “community food providers” Monday to ensure the district “can continue to feed” students in need, Laser said. “That plan will be forthcoming in the next few days.”
“This is a decision I am not taking lightly,” Laser said. “I know that it will be a tremendous strain on some of our families and our employees depending on each of your personal situations. Nonetheless, we must do our part in practicing social distancing in an effort to minimize the impact of the Coronavirus and keep our community as healthy as possible. … Thank you for your understanding during this modern unprecedented health emergency.”
Lincoln Academy, in a post on its website, said the school is following guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, local health and safety officials, and AOS 93, and that it made the decision with approval from its board of trustees.
The school is suspending in-person classes until April 27.
“Faculty and staff will use the week of March 17 to finish the implementation plan for virtual learning,” according to the post. Students and teachers will “test problems with access” between Wednesday, March 18 and Monday, March 23, when virtual instruction will begin.
RSU 40 includes three schools in Lincoln County: Miller School, Medomak Middle School, and Medomak Valley High School, all in Waldoboro. The Union-based district also includes Friendship Village School, Prescott Memorial School in Washington, Union Elementary School, and Warren Community School.
The Wiscasset School Department consists of Wiscasset Elementary School and Wiscasset Middle High School.
It was not immediately clear whether AOS 93, RSU 40, or the Wiscasset School Department would offer distance learning.
There was no mention of closures on the websites or social media channels for RSU 2, which includes Dresden; or RSU 12, which includes Alna, Somerville, Westport Island, and Whitefield.
Meanwhile, LincolnHealth is limiting visitation to its assisted-living and long-term care facilities, as well as to the Schooner Cove retirement community.
“Exceptions may be made for patients receiving end-of-life care after the visitor is screened,” LincolnHealth said in a press release Saturday.
“Given the impact COVID-19 has on the older population, we believe the best way to eliminate opportunities for infection and protect the health of our residents and team members is to limit visitation,” Dr. Timothy Fox, chief medical officer of LincolnHealth, said in a statement. “We did not take this decision lightly, and we are eager to restore visitation when it is safe to do so.”
“Family members and residents are aware of this decision, and LincolnHealth will continue to evaluate the guidance around visitors to senior living facilities,” according to the press release.
Saturday, March 14: Lincoln County businesses and town governments are reacting to the arrival of the new coronavirus in Maine.
At local grocery stores, county residents rushed to stock up on hand sanitizer, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and water.
On Friday, March 13, the day the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced the second presumptive positive test and a preliminary positive, Hannaford Supermarket and Main Street Grocery in Damariscotta were experiencing an ongoing run on those items as locals appeared to be preparing for a lengthy quarantine.
The coronavirus, which originally appeared in Wuhan, China, has spread to more than 138 countries, 46 states in the U.S., and the District of Columbia. The virus, named SARS-CoV-2, has infected over 145,000 people, as of March 13, with the respiratory illness COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
So far, the disease has killed more than 5,416 worldwide, including 45 in the U.S. The fatality rate is approximately 3.72% worldwide.
Jane Oliver-Gravel, owner of Main Street Grocery, said the store had to start limiting toilet paper purchases to two packages per customer per day, “so we can be kind to everybody.”
She said toilet paper has been by far the top-selling item, followed by hand sanitizer or Lysol, dry milk, and water.
According to Oliver-Gravel, the increase in purchases of these items started last Saturday morning, when a customer came into the store and told her Hannaford was sold out of toilet paper.
The rush continued throughout the week, but Main Street Grocery was able to continually restock on Wednesdays and Fridays from the store’s distributor, Oliver-Gravel said.
The distributor, Connecticut-based Bozzutto’s Inc., which supplies most IGA stores in New England, recently ordered 537,000 cases of toilet paper and only received 340,000, according to Oliver-Gravel.
She said Main Street Grocery only received about one-third of the toilet paper it ordered in the latest shipment.
Oliver-Gravel said the store will offer home delivery Monday and Wednesday, in addition to its usual Friday deliveries. She said community volunteers are offering to help deliver essentials to more vulnerable elderly residents who may choose to stay in their homes.
Health experts have said the coronavirus is particularly dangerous to the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions.
The Maine CDC issued an alert Monday, March 9 to long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and other health facilities.
The vulnerability of older patients is particularly relevant in Lincoln County, where 27.7% of the population is 65 or older, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
Oliver-Gravel said her store is taking extra precautions to sanitize all “touch” areas like cash registers, credit card terminals, door knobs and handles, and surfaces. Store employees are also asking customers to wipe down shopping carts with sanitizing wipes.
The Newcastle-based Renys department store chain is experiencing a surge in purchases of hand sanitizer and toilet paper at all 17 locations, including the Renys Underground store in Damariscotta, according to Adam Reny. The stores receive deliveries every day, he said.
Reny said there is a shortage of hand sanitizer in the market, but Renys is working with different vendors in an attempt to fill the demand. He said Renys stores still have stock on hand for regular sanitization of the stores by employees.
He said that over the past week, Renys sold 800 units of one specific type of Clorox wipe.
Reny said the chain has good relationships with its vendors and is lucky to be a member of the Retail Association of Maine, which is working with its members during this time.
Reny said the company has suspended all business travel and postponed several vendor meetings to aid in containment of the coronavirus.
He said many trade shows have been canceled and the company is looking into videoconferencing alternatives to stay up to date on new products.
The World Health Organization named the coronavirus spread a global pandemic Wednesday, March 11. U.S. President Donald Trump officially declared the pandemic a national emergency in an address in the White House Rose Garden on Friday afternoon.
“I’m urging every state to set up emergency operations centers effective immediately,” Trump said.
Casey Stevens, director of the Lincoln County Emergency Management Agency, said in a March 13 phone interview that his agency plans to do just that and is preparing for a worst-case scenario.
Stevens said that if an outbreak occurs, an emergency operations center will be activated to aid in resource management between Lincoln County towns.
A statement issued by the agency on Tuesday, March 10 says the center will also “maintain situational awareness by regularly communicating and collaborating with each municipality’s local EMA director, public safety agency, other counties, Maine CDC, and the Maine Emergency Management Agency.”
Stevens said the most important message is preparedness, urging residents to stock up on food and medications.
He said businesses and town governments should begin considering continuity of operations if leadership gets sick with COVID-19.
“People need to think about how they will keep their business going — keeping yourself safe, keeping employees safe, and keeping families safe,” Stevens said.
He said as the situation rapidly develops, everyone should take care to weigh and balance every decision based on the most current information.
Stevens stressed that locals take care to keep the spread away from the more vulnerable populations in the county, such as the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions.
He said Lincoln County EMA officials are reevaluating the situation daily and will continue to stay up to date with all the current information from the Maine CDC and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lincoln County EMA staff will meet with municipal emergency management directors at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta on Thursday, March 19.
The Newcastle Board of Selectmen called an emergency meeting to discuss the coronavirus spread on Friday, March 13.
The selectmen voted to delay the due date for the second half of 2019-2020 property taxes for two months and urged residents not to come into the town office or fire station unless absolutely necessary.
“The message should be: Don’t worry about coming in to pay taxes for another two months. We’re not going to charge you interest,” Ben Frey, chair of the board of selectmen, said.
The town will send postcards to residents with the new tax due date of June 1.
The selectmen also voted to cancel an upcoming community conversation concerning the draft of the town’s new zoning code, scheduled for 6 p.m., Monday, March 16., and a planning board public hearing on the zoning code scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 19. No other meetings have been canceled at this time.
“We’re at the point, I believe, that we have to be conscientious of the fact that we should assume that every door handle, every handshake is a potential vector for this virus,” Frey said.
Selectmen Carolyn Hatch and Wanda Wilcox, both of whom work in health care, agreed.
“And it’s just begun. It could be a month or two before we’re on the other side,” Hatch said.
The selectmen also discussed measures in the town office such as regular sanitization of touch surfaces, social distancing, and setting up bollards, signs, and possibly a Plexiglas window to aid in containment of the coronavirus.
Town Administrator Jon Duke said the fire department is working on new protocols for firefighters and increasing the use of online burn permits.
Duke said he spoke with Craig Jurgensen, superintendent of AOS 93. Duke said the school district’s main concern is how to continue to provide meals to children and continue education in the event of a district-wide school closure.
Dr. Tim Fox, chief medical officer at LincolnHealth, said testing for the coronavirus has picked up at LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus in Damariscotta.
He said more people are requesting tests and about six have been tested so far, with no positive results.
Fox said the hospital is currently conducting testing in the Watson Health Center, but may set up a testing center behind the emergency room.
He advised precautions such as social distancing, avoiding crowds, and hand-washing.
Of how long these careful precautions and event cancellations will need to last to prevent a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus, Fox said it is unknown, but he pointed to China as a potential guide.
China, where the coronavirus originated, has slowed the outbreak in recent weeks after the country virtually shut down in late January.
Fox said that after about three months, some factories are now beginning to open back up in China. Schools across China remain closed, however.
Several events have been canceled around the county, such as the Empty Bowl Supper at Medomak Valley High School on Thursday, March 12; Bristol Consolidated School’s Diversity Week performance, scheduled for Friday, March 13; and a community conversation about the historic preservation ordinance in Damariscotta, scheduled for Wednesday, March 18.
In an email, Damariscotta Town Manager Matt Lutkus said the delay of the ordinance meeting will not allow for inclusion of a revised historic preservation ordinance on the warrant for annual town meeting in June. He said the next chance for a secret ballot vote on the ordinance will be in November.
Bristol Town Administrator Chris Hall said in an email that annual town meeting will take place as scheduled.
The annual town meeting will begin with the municipal election Monday, March 16. The polls will be open at the Bristol Mills fire station from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The open portion of town meeting, when voters consider budgets and a policy change, among other matters, will take place at Bristol Consolidated School at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 17.
Hall said the chairs will be spaced farther apart in the BCS gymnasium during the open portion of town meeting on Tuesday.