Island Nursing Home outbreak spreads; four dead

DEER ISLE — Four residents of the Island Nursing Home have died of COVID-19 and the virus has spread throughout the facility’s entire population, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As of the CDC’s briefing Monday, there were 59 residents and 31 staff members who had tested positive for COVID-19, according to CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah.

“What we’ve seen across the country and in Maine, one of the best ways to keep nursing homes safe is to keep the community safe, to keep levels and the rate of transmission as low as possible,” Shah said. “In many instances, COVID-19 is introduced into nursing homes by employees. The best way to reduce the likelihood is to keep the community safe. Everyone is doing different things in that regard. The Maine CDC has had a number of productive discussions with INH. It’s a challenging situation.”

Details about the conditions of COVID-19-positive residents at the nursing home were not immediately available Wednesday morning. The American could not reach INH Director Matthew Trombley before press time.

Charles Turner of Stonington passed away due to COVID-19 on Dec. 1.

Turner’s son, Hilton Turner, said his father was an Isle au Haut native who fished for 30 years on a boat named for Charles’ late wife, Wilma Jean.

Hancock County residents may remember Charles Turner as the man who ran the state liquor store in Ellsworth until it closed.

“He was a lobsterman for 30 years until his health got bad,” Turner said. “He ran the state liquor store for 25 years. So, if you went in and bought a bottle, you bought it from him.”

Turner last spoke to his father in September. “That bugs me big time,” he said.

“We tried to do a Facetime,” Turner said. “They [INH staff] never even got back to us about it.”

Elsewhere on the island, the Stonington town office is open by appointment one person at a time. The same setup is in place at the Deer Isle town office.

Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings and her office staff are working from home while they quarantine due to a possible exposure related to the nursing home. Economic Development Director Henry Teverow is manning the office answering the phone.

Billings had the foresight several years ago to go to a cloud-based server system so that, armed with laptops, she and the town office staff can work remotely.

Those who can’t work remotely, however, are the town’s plow truck drivers, so Billings is counting on them to be careful.

“I don’t have people to fill in” for CDL [commercial driver’s license] operators, she said.

“We’re getting through it just trying to be really cautious,” Billings said. “Everyone is doing really good. The staff is all good-natured about it. We’re trying to be cautious so we can keep government services and plowing going.”

As a utility provider, for water and sewer in the downtown, the town office has to stay open to a certain extent, Billings said.

Meanwhile, the Deer Isle-Stonington community and others are providing meals and individually wrapped snacks to the staff at INH, including visiting nurses and doctors.

Barrett Gray, who owns Boyce’s Motel in Stonington, had been delivering lunches to seniors every week pre-pandemic. That has continued and he’s been cooking meals and snacks for visiting nurses and doctors with help from Pam Dewell and her daughter Oriana Wuerth.

Dewell is using the Meal Train website to recruit volunteers to make snack boxes for the 30 staff members on duty every day. Dewell said December is full and she’s about to open up sign-up dates for January.

“We wanted to support everyone on the job, especially after hearing about the long hours everyone was working, and that’s how we thought of the snack box,” said Dewell. “The response from the island community has been amazing. The snack box has a different donor every day through the month of December and we are about to post the January sign-up calendar. Volunteers are providing home-cooked meals to almost a dozen staff every day. Our list continues to grow as we have also added staff and their families who are sick. I think the outpouring of concern for these health workers says a lot about our island community.”

On a related note, for those wondering if it’s safe for community members to give homemade snacks and cookies to the staff, it is, as long as precautions are taken, according to the Maine CDC.

“The research continues to indicate that food is not a common source of transmission, so in the scenario you present, the act of exchanging or delivering treats could pose a greater risk,” said Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long. “The Maine CDC recommends that merry-makers and holiday bakers find ways to exchange treats in ways that minimize the risk of transmission via respiratory droplets.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “it is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food or food packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”


Correction: The first resident death due to COVID-19 at the Island Nursing Home was Nov. 28. The first resident at the nursing home to die was not Charles Turner, as was reported in a previous version of this story.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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