As of 11:30 a.m. Monday, March 23, 107 Maine residents have been confirmed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.
MOUNT DESERT, Maine — Maine’s unofficial population may be growing, at least temporarily, because of concerns about the spread of a new coronavirus across the country.
As the response to the outbreak has intensified over the last week, Mainers have noticed summer residents showing up months earlier than expected. In the weekly Mount Desert Islander and social media, they’ve shared sightings of out-of-state plates that normally don’t show up until after Memorial Day.
They’re coming to Maine to get some distance from the disease, both physically and psychologically, according to interviews.
“It’s more laid back here,” Randy Sprague, who owns and operates a plumbing and heating business in Bar Harbor, said Thursday. “It seems like they are trying to escape.”
Sprague estimated that he has 100 or so customers who are seasonal residents of Mount Desert Island. He said he’s been contacted by nine of them asking to have the water at their summer homes turned on, and that 7 of them have said the coronavirus is why they are heading north now instead of waiting until May or June.
“They said ‘we want to get out of the city,’” Sprague said.
Mary Ellen McCooey of New York City is one summer resident who has arrived on MDI early. She drove up from New York with her husband and son on Wednesday and, on Thursday, did some shopping with her son at the Pine Tree Market in Northeast Harbor while her husband worked remotely from the family’s home in the Southwest Harbor village of Seawall.
McCooey said people in New York City seem to be reacting to the spreading pandemic — and to much of society shutting down in order to slow the spread of the disease — in two different ways.
Some are isolating themselves in their apartments, keeping themselves peacefully occupied in their homes and venturing out only to get needed supplies. Though many, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer are hard to find no matter where you are, she said.
But other people seem to be struggling.
“You want to leave the hysterics behind,” McCooey said. “[The city] is really crowded.”
Her son, a student at Yale University, has to take all of his classes remotely for the remainder of the academic year, so the whole family decided to come to MDI, likely for a couple of weeks, to see if the outbreak slows down and stabilizes. She says they expect to return to New York before too long, but hope to come back as usual in the summer.
“We love it here,” she said.
Some year-round residents have raised concerns on social media about whether people who are coming from other states where more coronavirus cases have been confirmed are letting their guard down too much when they get here.
Durlin Lunt, the town manager for Mount Desert, said local officials are happy to have summer residents come for extended stays any time of year, but that they should follow existing recommendations from health officials to stay as isolated as possible.
Even under normal circumstances, many Maine towns with significant summer populations have fewer businesses open or offer fewer services in March than they do between May and October, he said. As it is now, state and town officials throughout Maine have taken unprecedented measures to close libraries and schools, and to restrict service at restaurants to take-out only, among other things.
If a lot of summer residents show up, and if a significant number of local businesses or municipal departments have to stay closed for several weeks or months because their employees get sick, Lunt said, many Maine towns and businesses could struggle heavily just to meet basic needs.
“We ask that they respect and abide by [federal health] guidelines,” the town manager said. “It is not like coming up in July.”
On Thursday, a reporter asked Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, whether people currently coming to Maine from out of state might pose a health risk to Mainers. Shah answered the question by citing a different concern.
“I’ve lived in Maine now for 9 months,” said Shah, who served as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health before taking his current job. “Never have I lived in another part of the world that is as welcoming to those who are from another part of the country as [Maine is], and I hope it stays that way.”
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease