The ferry Independence approaches the dock at Cousins Island in Yarmouth with passengers from Chebeague Island in March. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

YARMOUTH – The primary ferry serving Chebeague Island will provide emergency transport to suspected COVID-19 patients after all.

Chebeague Transportation Company, which connects the year-round island of 340 with mainland Yarmouth and serves as its official ambulance link, announced March 18 it would not transport such patients because of concerns about its insurance. The decision prompted an outcry among town officials and some island residents, as alternative rescue options would likely entail delays in getting a patient to an emergency room.

But the insurance issue has been resolved with the help of an April 7 directive from Maine’s superintendent of insurance, Eric Cioppa.

Using emergency powers activated by Gov. Janet Mills, Cioppa forbid insurers from using COVID-19 “as a reason to narrow or cancel the coverage of a policy already in effect” under penalty of trade fraud. The measure relieved the company — which serves as Chebeague’s school bus, commuter van and ambulance service — of concerns its agent had raised that carrying COVID-19 patients could jeopardize its insurance policy, CTC general manager Carol Sabasteanski told the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday.

“The insurance companies were and still are in turmoil about how to deal with COVID-19 and what it means to them,” Sabasteanski said. “But the pressure from the government, the protocols we came up with, and the insurance industry maybe calming down a bit meant they said they would allow us to do this.”

Under the company’s revised protocols, its 56-foot ferry Independence would carry emergency COVID-19 patients in a sheltered area astern, not in the main cabin, under the island rescue service’s supervision, and passengers and freight would not be allowed aboard.

Starting Tuesday, all passengers using the ferry were required to wear cloth masks. The ferry, which can carry 115 passengers in normal times, will carry as many as 20 passengers for the time being to ensure social distancing.

Non-emergency passengers suspected to have been exposed to the coronavirus will not be transported on the regular ferry but instead will be moved in their cars via a barge, should they have a vital need to get to the mainland, said Chebeague Island town administrator Marjorie Stratton, who oversees the town’s fire and rescue service.

“We are very pleased with the decision to allow our E-911 COVID-19 patients to be transported on the Independence,” Stratton said via email. “This is really the best and safest option for transport.”

She and Sabasteanski both said they were not aware of any confirmed COVID-19 cases on the island and that no rescue calls had been affected by the three and a half week lapse in ferry rescue coverage.

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