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Deer Isle
Web exclusive, November 30, 2020
45 test positive in nursing home outbreak; community responds
Community transmission of COVID-19 blamed

COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020
Click here to see the full COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020.

by Leslie Landrigan

Editors Note: This is a developing story and we will be posting additional updates in our COVID updates archive.

The number of Island Nursing Home residents and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 surged to 45, including 35 residents and 10 staff, Matthew Trombley, executive director, told four dozen community leaders in a zoom call on Sunday afternoon. Trombley said the nursing home is working with various organizations to manage the outbreak, including staffing agencies, Northern Light Health Systems, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the island towns and the National Guard, which is cleaning and sanitizing the building.

“The residents are being cared for,” said Alfred May district liaison for Maine CDC. He said help is coming from all over the state and local health and safety organizations are being kept informed of developments.

One resident was sent to the hospital, Trombley said. One resident who tested positive died over the weekend, though it wasn’t clear if the virus was the cause of death, he said.

“On residential care, all our residents are doing well. They’re mildly symptomatic with a slight cough, fever around 101,” he said. “A couple of individuals on the nursing side developed vomiting and diarrhea.”

Concern about the COVID-19 outbreak extends beyond the nursing home, as public school classes were canceled and the Stonington Town Hall closed to the public. Community leaders said they want to support the nursing home as well as try to contain the outbreak on the island.

John Ronan, president of the Northern Light Blue Hill and Maine Coast hospitals, said Northern Light has planned for a surge since the pandemic started. The surge plan, he said, has four phases. “Phase 4 is almost where we are now,” he said.

The hospitals sent nurses and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the Island Nursing Home, he said. He said the hospitals expect to receive some nursing home residents.

Staffing issues

The nursing home is working with 21 different agencies around the country to find staff, Trombley said. “We are very critical on staffing,” he said. “It’s a challenge being out on the island with staffing, especially with everyone else stretched so thin.”

Some staffers are working double shifts, some working 12-hour shifts, he said. “The team has done an exceptional job,” he said.

“We have no intention of evacuating the facility,” Trombley said. “We’re not in such dire straits of staffing that we can’t take care of our residents.”

The Island Nursing Home has 61 residents and about 85 staff, he said.

Schools closed

The School Union 76 schools in Deer Isle, Brooklin and Sedgwick were canceled on Monday so administrators could plan next steps, Superintendent Chris Elkington said on the call. He will make recommendations to the Community School District board at its regular meeting on Tuesday, he said.

Elkington emphasized that schools are safe places for people to be.

“Right now we have some hysteria going on around the community, both concern for those who are ill and those who could become ill,” Elkington said. “I’m concerned that people won’t come to school and staff won’t come to school because of the hysteria.” Three of the four schools have parents who work at the nursing home, Elkington said.

The towns

Stonington and Deer Isle are working with the nursing home to figure out how to dispose of its solid waste, the town managers said. Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher said the nursing home is throwing out large amounts of PPE, though all of it is double bagged.

The Town of Deer Isle has been trying to encourage residents to limit their risky behavior, but hasn’t entirely succeeded, Fisher said. The town has urged people to follow CDC guidance on precautions: to wear masks, to practice social distancing and to wash hands frequently.

“There’s a whole behavioral and cultural change that we need to make on the island,” Fisher said.

Stonington Town Hall closed to the public as a staff member was exposed to the virus by a household member, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings. Most staff is working remotely, and she said she hopes to open the offices.

Billings said the town has been reaching out to local businesses to encourage them to be extra vigilant. “We’re trying to be proactive and help out in any way the town can,” she said.

Community spread

State Rep. Genevieve McDonald hosted a second call on Sunday to discuss ways to prevent further outbreaks of the virus. “I’m deeply concerned about community spread,” she said. “People need guidance and answers.”

Trombley said the situation is evolving quickly. “It’s very hard to control until you actually know who is positive,” he said.

Trombley said not all of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 showed symptoms. When the nursing home tested staff and residents on Friday, November 20, only about a half dozen tested positive. Staff and residents were tested again five days later, and at 4 a.m. on Thanksgiving Trombley got the results: 21 residents and two new staff members were positive.

Trombley said the nursing home is working with Maine CDC to find out how the virus got into the nursing home.

The Hancock County Emergency Management Agency assembled the public health and safety, government and nonprofit organizations on the Sunday Zoom call to discuss the response to the nursing home outbreak.