NORTH HAVEN — North Haven officials have rescinded an unprecedented order to prohibit nonresidents from coming to the Penobscot Bay island.

Town Administrator Rick Lattimer said Thursday that the board voted Tuesday, March 17 to rescind the order it had approved on March 15, an action taken 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.

Lattimer said the board rescinded the order after an attorney in the administration of Gov.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, suggesting the town re-word its order into 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 also working on a case-by-case basis with contractors. Lattimer 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 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.

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

Lattimer sent a letter to Mills on Thursday explaining the town’s action. He said it was taken out of concern for protecting the health of the small community and not because residents dislike seasonal residents or are afraid of them.

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 were approved because of concerns about overwhelming the small medical facility on the island.

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 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 reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading on the ferry system, including trying to have passengers remain in their vehicles, limiting the number of passengers in the cabins, and discouraging use of the restrooms on the ferry.

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