Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Center sign. Credit: David Marino Jr. / The Star-Herald

This story will be updated.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Two residents have died from COVID-19 as cases more than doubled in an outbreak at Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Center, administrator Mark McKenna said Wednesday.

There were 11 active cases of the virus among residents, all in one unit of the center, and nine active cases among employees, McKenna said. Two employees have recovered, meaning that there have been a total of 24 cases at the facility including the two residents who have died.

Cases have significantly increased since Friday, when McKenna said there were eight residents and two staff members who had tested positive for the virus.

The deaths and increase in cases represent a dark new chapter for COVID-19 in Aroostook County, a region previously mostly untouched by the virus. It doubles the death count from COVID-19 across The County from two to four.

McKenna said it was devastating for the nursing home to experience the loss of two of its residents to the coronavirus.

“Not only is it a burden on the family and loved ones, but also on our staff,” McKenna said. “Residents become our family when they come to live here, and it’s a great loss to all.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention began investigating the outbreak at the nursing home last week. A staff member is believed to have brought the virus into the nursing home after eating lunch with a person who later tested positive for COVID-19, nursing home officials have said.

Noting how the virus made its way into the nursing home’s walls, McKenna said it was of utmost importance that County residents take the virus seriously. He expected more nursing homes across the region to see cases as the virus spreads throughout The County.

“It is crucially important at this time that, due to rapid community spread, people in the community practice social distancing and mask-wearing,” McKenna said.

McKenna had said last week that all nursing home residents — including those who had tested positive — had been isolated in their rooms since the center’s first employee tested positive. Staff had also increased surveillance of residents.

The nursing home outbreak is Presque Isle’s first since three employees of the city’s Walmart tested positive in July, and the first at a nursing home in Aroostook County. The Maine CDC defines a COVID-19 outbreak as three or more epidemiologically linked cases at a single facility.

The nursing home most recently tested several residents and staff members for COVID-19 on Friday. McKenna said his center would continue to test residents and staff in the coming weeks.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 8, COVID-19 cases in Aroostook County rose from 145 to 228, a 57 percent increase. It was the largest rise of any of Maine’s 16 counties during that time, according to Maine CDC data. There are 102 active cases in The County.

COVID-19 has been deadly for nursing homes across the United States: 354,313 nursing home residents have been confirmed to have COVID-19, while 72,642 have died from the disease since January, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the 451 confirmed cases in Maine nursing homes, 66 have died as of the week ending on Nov. 22.

The Presque Isle Rehab and Nursing Center did not pass an inspection performed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in June to ensure that it was following state regulations to stem COVID-19 — it was one out of 16 of Maine’s 93 nursing homes to be cited for violations.

The center sent a plan of correction to the state, and a second inspection in September did not find any violations.

In March, McKenna estimated the median age of residents at the home was 80. Those in such an age range are most at-risk of dying or other profound health implications from COVID-19.

Watch more: