The ferry Independence arrives at the dock on Chebeague Island last month. The ferry company’s announcement that it will not transport anyone suspected of having been exposed to the coronavirus has raised anxiety on the island. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

YARMOUTH — Chebeague Island emergency responders are scurrying for contingency plans after the island’s primary ferry provider announced it will not transport anyone suspected of having been exposed to the coronavirus.

The island town, with a year-round population of 340, is a 15-minute ferry ride from Yarmouth. Normally the Chebeague Transportation Company, which operates the ferry, acts as the island’s school bus, commuter van and ambulance service all in one. The island’s emergency medical service can get a patient to Maine Medical Center in 45 minutes with the help of CTC and its counterparts in Yarmouth.

The ferry company’s announcement took Chebeague Island officials by surprise and has raised anxiety on the 1,926-acre island, where half the residents are over 55.

“We are scrambling to find alternatives, none of which are very good,” town administrator Marjorie Stratton, whose office overseas the island’s rescue service, said via email. “We don’t have any known cases yet, but we all have to assume the worst.”

CTC referred all questions to its board president, John Rent, who responded with a written statement that left some ambiguity about how and why the decision was made.

“We absolutely understand that the community has concerns with this policy,” he wrote. “Our policy was established with the safety of crews and our ability to continue operations foremost in our thinking.”

The company is unable to provide COVID-19 emergency transport “without insurance relief,” Rent said, and the company is exploring how to attain that, including via “state and federal help.” He did not respond to follow-up questions about whether CTC’s insurance company had imposed the restriction or higher premiums.

Decisions about how to transport patients are made by paramedics and emergency medical technicians after they receive a call from Cumberland County’s dispatch center, Stratton said, but the options are not optimal: Long Island Fire and Rescue’s boat might be an option, if available at the time of the call. The Coast Guard can be called, but she understands response time can be one to two hours.

“Residents have offered their boats for us to use,” she said via email. “None of these options are as fast and safe as the CTC boat.”

CTC is continuing to transport non-COVID-19 emergency patients. Rent said the company will soon announce additional options for anyone who might fear they are infected but require only non-emergency transportation to the mainland for testing, medical appointments or other purposes.

The island is also served by a Casco Bay Lines ferry to Portland, but it has only three daily departures and the trip takes much longer: about 45 minutes or two hours, depending on which departure one takes.

Commander Jason Boyer, prevention officer for the Coast Guard’s Northern New England sector based in South Portland, confirmed the Coast Guard is always available to receive emergency response calls from the public, including from islands.

“We are still having conversations with CTC,” Stratton said, “in the hopes of working out some compromise.”

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