Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center is tightening restrictions for patient visitors as the Bangor hospital works to contain an outbreak that has infected at least 48 people and responds to surging numbers of coronavirus cases outside the hospital walls. 

On Monday, the hospital said it will limit the period when patients can be visited each day to just two hours, from 2 to 4 p.m. It will also require that the families of most patients designate just one person to be that patient’s sole visitor throughout their stay, preferably a spouse or someone from the same household.  

Forty workers and eight patients at EMMC have now tested positive in connection with the outbreak, according to Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The union representing more than 900 of EMMC’s nurses has been pushing in recent weeks for the hospital to restrict visitation amid the ongoing coronavirus surge. It has also demanded that the hospital systematically postpone elective procedures, but EMMC had not done so as of Monday morning, according to Suzanne Spruce, a spokesperson for the hospital’s parent group. 

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Spruce also noted that the term “elective” can refer to a variety of services that are not considered emergency care but are still medically necessary, such as open-heart surgery, colonoscopies, endoscopies and joint replacement.

“It’s not good when people delay care, treatment or screening and it can lead to bigger issues,” Spruce said. “So it is not as easy as saying cancel electives. It is a big decision and not made without careful discussion.” 

EMMC is allowing some exceptions to the one-visitor limit, such as for patients who are children, are receiving end-of-life care or are incapacitated or intubated. Two visitors will be allowed in those cases, which will require approval of nursing leaders. 

The visitors must be healthy and 18 or older, and wear face masks for their entire stay, meaning they can’t eat or drink in patient rooms. They will also be required to stay in the room of the patient they’re visiting and fill out contact tracing logs anytime they enter and exit the room. No visitors will be allowed in rooms where patients may have COVID-19 or be receiving services such as high-flow oxygen.

Anyone entering the hospital will still be screened for symptoms of the coronavirus or possible exposure to it.